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Economy's In Low Gear, But Obama's Bus Keeps Rolling


This is WEEKEND EDITION, from NPR News. I'm Scott Simon. President Barack Obama covered hundreds of miles of Ohio and Pennsylvania in his campaign bus over the last two days, but yesterday's job numbers showed that the U.S. economy is still stuck in low gear. The Labor Department reports that American employers added just 80,000 jobs last month. The unemployment rate remained stubbornly high, at 8.2 percent. Those numbers may mean an uphill climb for the president's re-election campaign. But as NPR's Scott Horsley reports, the campaign bus keeps on rolling.

SCOTT HORSLEY, BYLINE: President Obama is starved for good economic news. But he's not starved for much else. During his bus trip this week, his campaign organized a series of camera-friendly eating opportunities: eggs and bacon in Akron, cheeseburgers in Oak Harbor, and sweet corn in Port Clinton.

PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA: I've been eating a lot.


OBAMA: And people have been commenting, I need to gain some weight. So...


OBAMA: Who said that? Yes.

HORSLEY: Between meals, the president served up a menu of campaign speeches, most of them focused on the turnaround in the auto industry. Thanks to the government rescue that he championed - and that Mitt Romney opposed - U.S. automakers are now selling more cars and hiring more workers.

OBAMA: What happened in the auto industry can happen in a lot of other industries, 'cause I believe in American manufacturing. You know, the future of American manufacturing can still be forged in places like Youngstown and Cleveland and Pittsburgh.

HORSLEY: After a long decline, manufacturing has rebounded, adding half a million jobs over the last two and a half years. But as with other employers, factories have dramatically slowed the pace of hiring - from 40,000 jobs a month, at the beginning of this year; to a quarter of that today.

Mitt Romney took time out from his family vacation to criticize the slow pace of job growth. At a New Hampshire hardware store, Romney said the president has failed to reignite the economy.

MITT ROMNEY: The president's policies have not gotten America working again. And the president is going to have to stand up and take responsibility for it.

HORSLEY: Romney will have plenty of campaign cash to back up that message. His campaign, along with the Republican Party, raised more than $100 million in June. Mr. Obama told supporters in Poland, Ohio, he expects to be the target of a lot of negative ads.

OBAMA: You've got these superPACs, millionaires writing - billionaires writing $10 million checks; just pouring, raining down on my head.


OBAMA: I know It is all right because I'm tough. I'm skinny, but I'm tough.


HORSLEY: Mr. Obama argues the challenges facing middle-class families began years before the economic crisis hit, and they won't be corrected overnight. His solution calls for more investment in things like education and public works projects, even if they have to be paid for with higher taxes on the wealthy.

OBAMA: Folks like me can afford to do it. I promise you; I know. I've talked to my accountant. He said, you can do a little more.


OBAMA: And I sure know Mr. Romney can do a little more.


HORSLEY: In a sad footnote to the trip, Josephine Ann Harris, the 70-year-old owner of Ann's Place - where Mr. Obama had breakfast yesterday - died of a suspected heart attack, just hours after meeting the president. Mr. Obama telephoned Harris' daughter to express his condolences.

Before he wrapped up his bus tour, Mr. Obama made one more snack stop - this time at Kretchmar's Bakery, a half-century-old landmark in Beaver, Pennsylvania.

OBAMA: You know, we're close to the Fourth of July. Don't you think apple pie is appropriate? I really do. Let me get a classic apple pie.


HORSLEY: When the president asked the bakery's third-generation owner, how's business? Lincoln Kretchmar replied, not great, but not too bad.

Voters will have to decide whether that's good enough to give the president four more years in office. Scott Horsley, NPR News. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Scott Horsley is NPR's Chief Economics Correspondent. He reports on ups and downs in the national economy as well as fault lines between booming and busting communities.