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Tepid jobs data sets tone for presidential contest

By Ben Feller

Associated Press

Published: Friday, July 6 2012 2:11 p.m. MDT

Republican presidential candidate, former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney speaks about job numbers, Friday, July 6, 2012, at Bradley's Hardware in Wolfeboro, N.H.

Charles Dharapak, Associated Press

PITTSBURGH — Poor economic news intensified the presidential campaign Friday, with President Barack Obama and rival Mitt Romney offering distinctly different views of the nation's economic trajectory. Obama said job growth by private business "is a step in the right direction." Romney declared persistent high unemployment a "kick in the gut."

A stand-pat jobs report that showed a net of only 80,000 jobs created in June and an unemployment rate unchanged at 8.2 percent set a new benchmark for judging the president and for Romney to attempt to exploit just four months from Election Day.

"It's still tough out there," Obama conceded to a campaign crowd in Poland, Ohio. Still, he noted that the private sector jobs created in June contributed to 4.4 million new jobs over the past 28 months, including 500,000 new manufacturing jobs.

"That's a step in the right direction," he said. But he added: "We've got to grow the economy even faster, and we have to put even more people back to work."

Obama criticized Romney for pushing economic ideas that, the president said, have been tried without success before.

Romney, speaking ahead of the president in New Hampshire, used virtually the same argument against Obama, saying he represented liberal policies that had been discredited.

"This kick in the gut has got to end," Romney declared, and he issued a biting indictment of the president.

"American families are struggling, there's a lot of misery in America today," he said, interrupting his vacation in New Hampshire to react to the jobs numbers. "The president's policies have not gotten America working again. And the president is going to have to stand up and take responsibility for it."

Obama was on the second day of a bus tour of Ohio and Pennsylvania, hotly contested battlegrounds whose modest economic gains he hoped to leverage into a case for his re-election.

Romney was at his lakeside vacation home amid growing anxiety among conservatives that he was not being aggressive enough and was squandering his opportunity to win in November. Republicans worry that Obama's attacks against Romney are taking their toll on the challenger and right-leaning leaders in business and the media say he is presenting a muddled case for his presidency despite a weak economy.

"I don't say much to critics," Romney told reporters, noting that he has issued a 59-point economic plan to counter the president.

On his tour, Obama was promoting policies that he says have helped states such as Pennsylvania and Ohio, particularly the government bailout of Chrysler and General Motors.

"We saved an auto industry. That saved hundreds of thousands of jobs here in Ohio," Obama said in an interview with NBC affiliate WLWT in Cincinnati that was aired Friday. "We passed a health care law that's going to mean security for Ohioans."

Obama questioned Romney's motives on health care in the same interview, accusing his rival of caving under pressure from conservative commentator Rush Limbaugh to say that requiring all Americans to buy health insurance amounts to a tax. Later, at an event in Pittsburgh, Obama told supporters Romney would promote Republican policies on taxes and regulations that he said led to a near economic meltdown in 2008.

"They're banking on the notion that you don't remember what happened when they were in charge, the last time they were in charge of the White House," Obama said.

Romney said Wednesday the Supreme Court ruled the requirement to buy health insurance was a tax, which amounted to a shift in his position. Earlier in the week, senior adviser Eric Fehrnstrom said Romney viewed the mandate as a penalty, a fee or a fine — not a tax.

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