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Job Losses Become Major Issue in US Presidential Election - 2004-03-15

Concern over job losses in the United States has emerged as a major issue in the 2004 presidential campaign. The presumptive Democratic presidential nominee, Massachusetts Senator John Kerry, has made the jobs issue a central focus of his campaign.

During a recent campaign stop in Illinois, Senator Kerry noted that the U.S. economy has lost more than two million jobs since President Bush took office in 2001. "2004 cannot, cannot be just another year of politics as usual. The challenges that we face are simply too great and too grave. Every minute that passes, we are losing two jobs to other countries," he said.

The job losses remain a major concern for the president's re-election campaign. But Bush supporters are quick to point out that other key indicators such as economic growth and interest rates remain positive.

Nonetheless, the president does mention his concern over job losses in every major speech he gives, including his most recent Saturday radio address. "The unemployment rate of 5.6 percent is below the average unemployment rate in the 1970s, the 1980s and the 1990s. And last month marked the sixth consecutive month of increased employment in America," he said.

But pollsters and political analysts say job loss fears rank high among voters concerned with economic issues.

Karlyn Bowman monitors public opinion for the American Enterprise Institute here in Washington. She says the renewed focus on the outsourcing, or transfer, of U.S. jobs overseas to cut costs has become a major concern among American voters. "Job anxiety is not as great as it was in the early 1980s by any stretch, or the early 1990s. But it is still front and center. By 68 to 23 [percent], people disagreed with the government official who recently said that the outsourcing of American service jobs to other countries is not only inevitable, but good for Americans," she says.

The concern over jobs became a significant issue in some of the recent Democratic presidential primaries, especially in states like South Carolina and Wisconsin, which have experienced jobs losses in recent years.

The jobs issue is likely to become a critical factor in several closely contested states in the November election, including traditional battleground states like Ohio, Michigan and Pennsylvania.

William Schneider, a political analyst for the American Enterprise Institute and CNN, says "the issue that is there is jobs, jobs, jobs. And the central theme of this election right now, without any sudden shift in the international scene, is the loss of jobs under this administration. And that issue is enormous out there in the country. Americans do not look at any other economic indicator very seriously except for jobs, because jobs are what the American Dream is all about."

Historically, economic issues have a greater impact on presidential elections than those related to foreign policy. But analysts also caution that renewed fears of terrorism could alter the focus of the election to national security issues, something many of them believe would help President Bush.