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Obama tries to steer bus tour past roadblock of jobs numbers

President Obama tells a group of supporters in Poland, Ohio, takes aim at rival Mitt Romney and his prescription for the economy while maintaining that the overall employment numbers, from the past 28 months – and the creation of 5.4 million new jobs – are a "step in the right direction."

PITTSBURGH — President Barack Obama's first general election bus tour, which started Thursday in Maumee, Ohio, and ended in Pittsburgh on Friday, included 11 colorful stops at places that ranged from a diner to a farmer’s market to a college campus.

He met business owners and high-fived at least one kid with spiky blue hair.

Obama delivered five speeches aimed at selling a message of a slowly but surely improving economy that’s been helped by a recovering auto industry in the country’s Rust Belt. However, the announcement that last month’s unemployment rate remained at 8.2 percent had the president trying to reconcile a tour about economic growth with numbers that point to almost the opposite.

His response to the jobs numbers during a speech in Poland, Ohio, was brief and measured: “It’s still tough out there.”  He continued, “We learned this morning that our businesses created 84,000 new jobs last month. And that overall means that businesses have created 4.4 million new jobs over the past 28 months, including 500,000 new manufacturing jobs. That's a step in the right direction.”

Former Gov. Mitt Romney’s campaign took just the “right direction” part of the president’s comments and responded with a sarcastically emailed “Seriously?”

Romney’s spokesperson also wrote, “It requires adding about 130-150k jobs a month to simply keep up with population growth; only 80k jobs is LOSING [sic] ground.”

But the idea that the country is gradually getting better was the president’s essential message at all of the events along the bus route and really of the campaign as a whole.

In Parma, Ohio, Thursday night the president said, “What we wanted to do was make sure that we started moving in the right direction, moving forward, not moving backwards. And we've been able to do that. We've been moving forwards.  And frankly, we've been moving forwards without a lot of help from the other side.”

He playfully continued, “We've been kind of yanking them. They've been on our ankles and pulling us back, but we've been moving forward.”

 And it’s stories like the one he told in Poland, Ohio, of a woman who had successfully retrained at a community college for a new job, that he hoped people would pass on.

“I met a woman yesterday in Parma who I had met a year earlier. She had been out of work for two years and had gone back to community college at the age of 55 and retrained. And I saw her in the rope line after my speech. She had just been certified and was starting her new job on Tuesday,” the president said somewhat proudly.

Friday morning, before the dismal jobs numbers were announced, the president was still trying to keep his message intact by making a stop at a diner in Akron, Ohio, to have breakfast with three people who were employed at the local Goodyear plant. Creating a picture that could help highlight that the auto industry employs one in eight people in Ohio and that the state’s unemployment rate, 7.3 percent, is demonstrably less than the national average.

But not only was the president pre-empted at his first stop in Ohio by a banner plane flying overhead with a Romney2012 sign, Gov. Bobby Jindal of Louisiana and former Gov. Tim Pawlenty of Minnesota rolled into three of the towns on the president’s schedule to portray Obama as someone who had broken promises.

In an interview after one such event in Pittsburgh, Jindal said of the president, “He promised us four years ago he'd turn around the economy in four years, that didn't happen. Unemployment has been above 8 percent for the last 40 straight months. … We just want folks to know the president has made a lot of promises to the middle class, he's broken a lot of promises.”

And while the Obama campaign counters that by saying there’s been over 28 straight months of private industry job growth, there are other figures that will continue to make the president’s re-election message hard to sell:

  • African American unemployment ticked up to 14.4 percent in June from 13.6 percent in May.
  • Hispanic unemployment remained higher than the national average at 11 percent last month.

The Bureau of Labor Statistics frames the anemic job growth this way:

“In the second quarter, employment growth averaged 75,000 per month, compared with an average monthly gain of 226,000 for the first quarter of the year. Slower job growth in the second quarter occurred in most major industries.”

Also consider this, according to economic expert Peter Morici, “The economy would have to add about 13 million jobs over the next three years — about 360,000 each month — to bring unemployment down to 6 percent.”

It’s numbers like those that the president is really running against when he boards a bus in a swing state.