Jobs growth returns to the forefront of the U.S. presidential campaign today as the Labor Department releases a report on unemployment and President Barack Obama wraps up a bus tour through two battleground states.
The monthly jobs report, due at 8:30 a.m. New York time, has taken on so much political significance amid voter discontent with the economy that it amounts to a regular “referendum” on the president, said Kathleen Hall Jamieson, a professor at the University of Pennsylvania’s Annenberg School for Communication in Philadelphia.
“Once every month the public sees it as a signal of either the competence of the president or his failures,” Jamieson said. The Dow Jones Industrial Average and “the unemployment rate are among the few things that voters can see over time as a continuing indicator that they understand.”
Private forecasters expect the Labor Department report will show employers added 100,000 new jobs last month, an improvement from 69,000 in May though still a slower pace than earlier this year, according to the median estimate of economists surveyed by Bloomberg News.
Economists anticipate the unemployment rate will hold steady at 8.2 percent, according to the survey. Joblessness has exceeded 8 percent since February 2009, the longest such stretch since monthly records began in 1948.
Obama has sought to use his two-day “Betting on America” tour through Ohio and Pennsylvania to draw a contrast with Republican challenger Mitt Romney, a former private-equity executive whose business made investments overseas.
Romney’s experience “has been in owning companies that were called ‘pioneers of outsourcing,’” Obama said yesterday while campaigning in Maumee, Ohio. “My experience has been in saving the American auto industry, and as long as I’m president, that’s what I’m going to be doing.”
Shortly before the president’s arrival in Ohio yesterday, his administration announced that it had filed a complaint with the World Trade Organization accusing China of levying unfair tariffs on U.S. autos.
The duties cited in the WTO claim cover more than 80 percent of U.S. auto exports to China, including cars made in the Ohio cities of Toledo and Marysville, White House press secretary Jay Carney told reporters during the flight to Ohio from Washington yesterday.
Carney said the WTO claim, the seventh such action against China taken by the administration, was “in development for quite a long time,” and not politically driven.
Obama also spoke about the health-care overhaul upheld last week by the Supreme Court, saying there’s been much “misinformation” about the law. The court’s decision means it’s time to abandon acrimony and focus on the measure’s benefits and protections, he said.
“In America, nobody should go bankrupt because they get sick,” he said. “The law I passed is here to stay.”
During his final stop last night, the president told about 1,000 people gathered at a park in northeast Ohio that his administration has “been working 24/7” for the past three-and a-half years to rebuild the economy.
Obama repeated a frequent campaign theme that he and Romney, the presumed Republican nominee, have very different visions for the country. The president said Romney wants to return to the Republican economic policies that culminated in the worst recession since the Great Depression.
“I don’t think we grow the economy from the top down. I think we grow the economy from the middle class out,” he said.
Polls show that linking Romney to the outsourcing of U.S. jobs when he was at Boston-based Bain Capital LLC, which he co-founded, is an effective approach with voters in the swing states of Ohio and Pennsylvania, where Obama will end the trip.
“If the election’s about Romney and Bain, then the president’s going to win,” said Stu Rothenberg, editor of the nonpartisan Rothenberg Political Report in Washington. “For Romney, it has to be about Obama: Obama and jobs, Obama and leadership, Obama and the economy, and Obama and health-care.”
Ohio and Pennsylvania, both of which Obama won in 2008, have a combined 38 electoral votes in this year’s election. Since filing for re-election in April 2011, Obama has visited Ohio nine times and Pennsylvania eight times.
Obama led Romney by nine percentage points in Ohio and six in Pennsylvania, according to a “Swing State Poll” conducted June 19-25 by Hamden, Connecticut-based Quinnipiac University. The poll of 1,237 Ohio voters and 1,252 Pennsylvania voters had a margin of error of plus or minus 2.8 percent. In 2008, Obama beat Republican John McCain in Ohio by five percentage points and in Pennsylvania by 11.
Focus on Romney
Still, Obama lost the 2008 Democratic primaries to Hillary Clinton in Ohio and Pennsylvania, and Republican George W. Bush won Ohio in 2000 and 2004.
If the economic data “is suggesting economic problems ahead and slowdown, the harder it will be to keep the focus on Romney,” putting Ohio at risk for Obama, Rothenberg said.
Ohio has been recovering faster than most of the country. It ranks sixth in improving economic health in the Bloomberg Economic Evaluation of States from the first quarter of 2011 through the first quarter of this year, the most recent data available. The unemployment rate in Ohio was 7.3 percent in May, lower than the national rate of 8.2 percent for that month and down from a high of 10.6 percent from July 2009 through January 2010.
The Obama campaign started airing a television ad July 3 in nine states including Ohio and Pennsylvania that says Romney’s team at Bain “were pioneers in outsourcing U.S. jobs to low-wage countries.” The ad says Obama “believes in insourcing” and “fought to save the U.S. auto industry.”
Through July 2, the campaign aired two ads 504 times on stations that reach Ohio voters, blaming Romney and Bain Capital for job losses at a steel company. Another ad from the Obama campaign, citing a Washington Post article that Bain sent jobs overseas, was run 247 times on stations that reach Ohio voters beginning June 27 through July 2, according to data from Kantar Media’s CMAG, which tracks campaign advertising.
Priorities USA Action, the super-political action committee backing Obama, has produced four television ads that have run 2,357 times in Ohio; three of those ads also either ran or are running in Pennsylvania 2,591 times.