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Bush, Kerry squabble over jobs data

President Bush speaks to journalists Friday at Washington convention.Pablo Martinez Monsivais / AP
/ Source: staff and news service reports

President Bush told New Hampshire voters Friday that the nation’s economy is improving, even as the latest unemployment report shows weakness in the creation of jobs.

“Today’s employment report shows our economy is continuing to move forward,” Bush told the crowd in the only Northeastern state he won in the 2000 election.

Not so, said his rival for the presidency, Sen. John Kerry, who added that the the economy in fact may be making “a U-turn.”

Kerry said July’s anemic job growth is proof the president is wrong in claiming the economy has turned a corner. In a brief statement, Kerry said just because the president says the corner is being turned “doesn’t make it so.”

For his part, Bush allowed that more needs to be done. “I’m not going to be satisfied until everybody who wants to work can find a job,” Bush told cheering supporters at a picnic in New Hampshire, where recent polls show him tied with Kerry.

The candidates’ remarks followed the release of new figures showing the nation’s economy added 32,000 jobs in July, representing the smallest gain in hiring since December. Analysts were expecting the economy to add anywhere from 215,000 to 247,000 jobs in July.

Monthly job growth of 200,000 to 300,000 is regarded by many economists as a yardstick for healthy economic recovery.

“We’re in a changing economy and we’ve got more to do,” said the president, who was making his third trip of the year to New Hampshire.

In addition to the meager job gain for July, the government revised the June employment report, showing a gain of just 78,000 jobs, even less than previously reported. May’s payrolls also were revised down to show a gain of 208,000.

New Hampshire’s economy is mixed, with an unemployment rate consistently below the national rate. New Hampshire has lost thousands of manufacturing jobs since the president took office. The state’s rate for June was 3.9 percent, a fact that drew cheers when Bush remarked on it in his speech. The national jobless rate for July was 5.5 percent.

“You proved that we’re moving America forward and we’re not turning back,” the president said.

'Four more years' vs. 'three more months'
On his way to the picnic, Bush’s motorcade passed opposing groups of demonstrators on the way to the picnic, one group shouting “Four more years!” the other shouting, “Three more months!”

Bush is in New England to spend a weekend at the family compound in Kennebunkport, Maine. He is attending the wedding of his nephew George P. Bush, the son of Florida Gov. Jeb Bush.

Earlier Friday, Bush defended the decision to issue terrorism warnings and tighten security in New York and Washington as Kerry pitched his $20 billion alternative energy plan.

Bush addressed the Unity convention of minority journalists in Washington, where he was received politely, but not nearly as warmly as Kerry had been the previous day.

“The atmosphere was totally different than Kerry yesterday,” reported’s Darrell Bowling. “There were protesters outside … they were handing out leaflets. … When Bush came in, people stood up, but it was just polite applause. It was not the reception Kerry received." Bowling said at least one protester in the audience who confronted Bush was shouted down by journalists and then whisked away by security agents.

In defending the increased terrorism alerts, Bush told the journalists “the threats we’re dealing with are real” even though some of the intelligence on which the government acted was as much as four years old.

Bush said the government had an obligation to tell Americans about the threats, even though some have questioned whether the warnings were politically motivated to strengthen the president’s image as commander in chief in an election year.

“When we find out intelligence that is real, that threatens people, I believe we have an obligation as government to share that with people,” Bush told the journalists. “What if we didn’t share that with people and something was to happen? What would you write? What would you say?”

Raising the alerts
On Sunday, authorities elevated alert levels in New York, Washington and Newark, N.J., on the belief that terrorists might be plotting attacks on specific financial institutions. The intelligence behind the warnings — including hundreds of detailed surveillance photos, sketches and written documents — came from sources including a seized laptop and computer discs and from interviews after the mid-July arrest of a young Pakistani computer engineer, Mohammad Naeem Noor Khan.

Meanwhile, Kerry pressed the case for American energy independence as a step toward better national security, talking to farmers on the western edge of Missouri.

Kerry, clad in jeans and seated in front of a small field of corn at the Nelson family farm, promoted ethanol and other grain-based fuels as a way to lessen dependence on foreign oil. He said energy independence becomes more important when the United States is at war, “the war on terror, where much of the focus of that war is in the Middle East.”

“Guess what else is in the Middle East?” Kerry asked. “Oil.”

To increase American energy production and reduce reliance on foreign oil, Kerry and running mate John Edwards want to create a $20 billion fund to finance research and development of alternative and renewable fuels. The fund would promote energy sources like natural gas, coal, and nuclear and renewable energy.

Kerry says one-fifth of the fuels powering U.S. cars and trucks should come from energy sources such as corn and soybeans by 2020.

Answering the farmers
Fielding questions from farmers, Kerry steered a centrist course by vowing to take on massive corporate agriculture producers but restrain government bureaucracy.

“John and I have what we think is a real commonsense approach,” Kerry said. “We’re not going to come in with some overbearing regulation.”

For consumers, Kerry’s plan to spend $20 billion over a decade to develop more clean-burning fuels and environmental technology would mean incentives, like tax breaks, worth up to $5,000 for the purchase of clean and efficient vehicles. Kerry wants those vehicles to be made in the United States, and he would put half of the $20 billion toward helping American manufacturers rebuild their plants to make more efficient vehicles.

Kerry’s rolling campaign charged through this bellwether state, which has voted for the eventual winner in every presidential race but one during the last 100 years, on the first day of its journey by train.