Despite weak jobs numbers, Obama touts his economic vision
On a sweltering Friday afternoon in Oakland, President Obama told thousands of supporters that his policies have moved the economy in the right direction, even if the incremental pace seems disheartening.
Speaking at Carnegie Mellon University shortly after 2 p.m., about six hours after a government report showed slower-than-expected job growth in June, Obama touted the rescue of the auto industry, millions of jobs gained since the economy bottomed out in 2009, and record domestic oil production that came about during the past three years.
More than a dozen people collapsed during his rally after standing for hours in humidity that amplified the 93 degrees registered by the National Weather Service.
Hours earlier in Pittsburgh, two surrogates for Republican candidate Mitt Romney — Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal and former Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty — said the jobs report shows Obama has failed.
The Bureau of Labor Statistics reported the economy added 80,000 jobs last month, fewer than needed to keep pace with population growth. It's another marker in an election expected to hinge on the country's economic performance.
“This election is not just about two candidates or two parties. It's about two fundamentally different visions of where we take our country,” Obama said.
Contrasting the economic boom of the 1990s, when President Bill Clinton was in office, with the past decade, Obama said: “They're banking on the notion that you don't remember what happened when they were in charge the last time.”
About 6,500 people, according to the Pittsburgh Fire Department, crowded onto a sunny swath of Carnegie Mellon's College of Fine Arts lawn. Campaign volunteers sprayed people in the crowd with water, handed out bottled water and set up a misting fan and cooling tent. Still, red-shirted medics retrieved more than a dozen people exhausted by the baking heat.
“They're going out as fast as we can get ambulances,” said Pittsburgh EMS division Chief Bob Farrow.
Thirteen people went to the emergency room. Medics treated others at a first aid station within view of where Obama spoke. None of the cases was life-threatening, Farrow said. Most of those stricken were elderly or diabetic or had some pre-existing health issue, he said.
The Hillman Library at the nearby University of Pittsburgh looked like a busy taxi stand outside a downtown convention center as ambulances used it as a staging area to pick up people from the event.
Jindal and Pawlenty held their midmorning counter-rally in the air-conditioned third floor of Soldiers & Sailors Memorial Hall & Museum. About 140 people attended.
The pair shadowed Obama's two-day bus tour through Ohio and Pennsylvania, states with deep roots in the manufacturing sector. Both states have unemployment rates about a percentage point lower than the national rate of 8.2 percent.
The Republicans criticized Obama for the health care bill, the slow economic recovery and unemployment above 8 percent since 2009.
“These are not just statistics. … These are moms and dads whose hopes and dreams are tied up in whether they're going to have a job,” Pawlenty said.
“Are we better off than we were four years ago? You saw the jobs report today,” Jindal said.
The two are considered top candidates to join Romney on the GOP presidential ticket, which is what drew Colton Young, 60, of Castle Shannon to their event.
“I really went back and forth” on who would make the better vice presidential candidate, Young said. He noted that both boast “solid, middle-class backgrounds. They can talk to the average middle-class voter.”
Obama's speech closed out his “Betting on America” bus tour, during which he highlighted policies designed to support domestic manufacturing, such as the auto industry bailouts. He spoke at a school in Poland, Ohio, and stopped at Kretchmar's Bakery in Beaver on his way to Pittsburgh.
“When some folks said, ‘Let Detroit go bankrupt,' we said no,” Obama said, referring to a newspaper column Romney wrote urging then-struggling auto companies to solve problems through bankruptcy proceedings. “We're betting on the American worker. We're betting on the American industries. And now GM is back at No. 1, and Chrysler and Ford are back.”
But job growth has lagged in recent months, with the economy adding just 69,000 jobs in May.
Senior PNC Financial Services Group macroeconomist Gus Faucher named three main causes of the slow growth: high energy prices this year; uncertainty over whether Congress and the president will strike a deal to avoid automatic tax hikes and spending cuts scheduled at the beginning of next year; and lingering worries over the financial state of the European Union, which he said is in another recession.
Staff writer Margaret Harding contributed to this report. Mike Wereschagin and Andrew Conte are staff writers for Trib Total Media and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org and email@example.com, respectively.