Job growth called key to re-election for Bush

Backers at Home Depot see economy improving

December 06, 2003|By Bill Atkinson | Bill Atkinson,SUN STAFF

President Bush clearly sees the economy as a winning political issue, but experts say the pace of job growth must pick up substantially for him to ride it to a second term next year.

Certainly yesterday at the Home Depot in southern Baltimore County, Bush scored points with friendly workers and company executives as he enthusiastically described his efforts to propel the economy upward, including tax cuts and rebates that have helped spark a turnaround.

"The economy is good; it can be better," said Bush, who spoke to more than 100 employees and sat on a stage flanked by Home Depot's chairman and several company employees and small-business people. "The tax relief we passed must become permanent."

But economists say the only economic indicator that really matters to most Americans - jobs - must start surging to ensure Bush's re-election.

Yesterday, the Labor Department said unemployment fell to 5.9 percent in November, but companies added a disappointing 57,000 new jobs to their payrolls, well below the 150,000 that analysts were predicting.

Heather Boushey, an economist with the Center for Economic & Policy Research in Washington, said the 328,000 jobs added over the past four months has barely put a dent in the 2.3 million job losses racked up since January 2001.

"We haven't seen a presidency where we've lost as many jobs since the reign of Herbert Hoover," Boushey said.

But Home Depot employees cheered Bush and praised his economic policies. Many see the economy picking up.

"It is rising, you can see it," said Gwennie Elliott, 47, who works in inventory management.

"Instead of five customers down an aisle, you might have 10. People aren't as afraid to spend as much money."

Taureane Brown, 21, who works on the night crew, hopes to buy a home.

"I see it [the economy] creating a lot more jobs for everybody," Brown said. "You have more money to spend on things. It helps."

If the economy keeps growing, Bush's chances for re-election will improve, employees said.

"The economy is going to push to Bush's favor," said Fred Coffinberger, 54, who works with contractors at Home Depot.

"I think the economy is going to turn around by the time election time comes," said the retired Bethlehem Steel foreman.

Tears welled in Debbie Ries' eyes as Bush spoke.

"I think he has done a wonderful job," said Ries, 43, who works in receiving.

A mother of three children, said she had lost a job with a $750-a-week salary in 2000 but landed work at Home Depot, the nation's second-largest retailer, where business has been strong.

A counterpoint to the worker enthusiasm was offered by Maryland Democratic U.S. Rep. Benjamin L. Cardin, who also attended the Home Depot event.

"I think there are a lot of families out there that are hurting today," Cardin said.

"There are a lot of people who have been left out. The election will take care of itself."

Sun staff writer Jamie Smith Hopkins contributed to this article.

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