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Published: Wednesday, 6/16/2004

Bush hurts middle class, Kerry tells Columbus crowd

BY JIM PROVANCE
BLADE COLUMBUS BUREAU

COLUMBUS - As rain soaked through his shirt, U.S. Sen. John Kerry yesterday told a crowd of about 2,000 last night that the policies of President Bush are sinking the middle class of America.

"In America, a rising tide is supposed to lift all boats, not just the boats of the captain," he said. "The middle class boats are taking on water in this country, and the middle class built this country."

As he brought his "middle-class squeeze" tour to a middle-class neighborhood in west Columbus, the presumptive Democratic nominee for president said Ohio hasn't experienced the economic recovery touted by his opponent.

"Some people are working two jobs, three jobs just to make ends meet," he said. "But, guess what, wages keep staying the same or going down - givebacks. Tuition has gone up 35 percent in the last few years. Ohio State's just went up 16 percent Health care's gone up 50 percent. Gasoline prices are up 41 percent."

Despite the creation of 4,300 new jobs in April, manufacturing-heavy Ohio's unemployment rate climbed from 5.7 percent to 5.8 percent while the national average declined from 5.7 to 5.6 percent.

The Bush campaign is quick to note the state's jobless rate is down from 6.2 percent a year ago, but the Kerry camp prefers to point to the rate on the day Mr. Bush took office in January 2001, 3.9 percent.

"We don't deny at all that the president inherited an economy that was already in recession, that he suffered an attack on American soil that was a devastating blow to our economy and cost us over a million jobs basically just like that ," said Ralph Reed, southeast regional director for the Bush campaign.

"The measure of the man and the leader is this: Did he do something swiftly to get this economy out of that recession?" he said. "This is the shortest and shallowest recession in the post-World War II period."

Both sides await the release of May numbers on Friday as the battle for the Buckeye State and its 20 electoral votes continues.

The state is crucial to the strategies of both campaigns to win the White House on Nov. 2.

Ohio went to Mr. Bush in 2000 with a margin of less than 4 percent.

Mr. Bush touts more recent economic news, including the creation of over 1.2 million jobs so far this year and annual economic growth of about 5 percent. The Kerry camp prefers statistics stretching over the president's entire three-and-a-half-year tenure.

The Bush camp has responded by dubbing Mr. Kerry's tour this week through New Jersey, Ohio, and Michigan the "doom and gloom" tour.

"Sen. Kerry looks at the economy the way families look at the economy," said Jason Furman, Mr. Kerry's economic policy director.

"George Bush looks at the economy the way government does, isolated economic statistics," Mr. Furman said.

As Mr. Kerry led the rally in the west Columbus park, a loudspeaker from a pro-Bush household across the street blared the theme from the TV show Flipper, an allusion to the Bush campaign's contention that Mr. Kerry has flip-flopped on issues like the war in Iraq.

The Massachusetts senator is combining his swing through Ohio with a pair of fund-raisers, adding $1 million to his campaign coffers at a luncheon yesterday in Cincinnati. He is expected to raise $500,000 more this morning at a breakfast hosted by Columbus Mayor Mike Coleman.

Contact Jim Provance at:

jprovance@theblade.com

or 614-221-0496.



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