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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

"So the question becomes, are you doing that because of politics?" Obama said. "Are you abandoning a principle that you fought for, for six years simply because you're getting pressure for two days from Rush Limbaugh or some critics in Washington?"

At his stop in Poland, Ohio, Obama defended the health care law, saying he was proud of it and calling it the "right thing to do" for Americans. "I make no apologies for it," Obama said.

The jobless numbers commanded most attention Friday and could determine the nature of the political debate to come. The unemployment and hiring figures provide monthly milestones with which to measure the human toll of the weak economic recovery.

Republicans were quick to contend the report showed Obama's policies had failed.

"The president bet on a failed 'stimulus' spending binge that led to 41 months of unemployment above 8 percent," House Speaker John Boehner said. "He bet on a government takeover of health care that's driving up costs and making it harder for small businesses to hire."

Democrats sought to capitalize on the jobs created, which at 80,000 were not enough to keep up with population growth but sustained a string of months during which the private sector has increased hiring.

"With the private sector continuing to create jobs for the 28th consecutive month, our economic recovery continues to push forward," Rep. Steny Hoyer of Maryland, the second-ranking Democrat in the House, said in a statement.

Friday's jobless report comes as the public's confidence about the economy is already wavering. The percentage of people in an Associated Press-GfK poll last month that said the economy got better in the past month fell below 20 percent for the first time since fall. And few said they expected much improvement in the unemployment rate in the coming year.

Romney has not been able to exploit that sentiment fully. In national polls, the president either retains a slight edge or is in a statistical tie with his challenger.

The economic data continue to provide a mixed picture of the recovery. Weekly unemployment benefit applications dropped last week to the lowest number since the week of May 19. At the same time, retailers recorded tepid sales in June. And a report this week said U.S. manufacturing shrank in June for the first time in nearly three years, undermining a top Obama talking point.

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