FLINT (AP) — Allies of Democrat John Kerry in this
down-on-its-luck industrial state are armed with depressing
statistics on unemployment and poverty, hoping to persuade voters
to blame President Bush for the hit on their pocketbooks.
In Michigan, 6.6 percent of workers are unemployed, with the
strain sharpest in communities that have suffered plant closings
and manufacturing cutbacks as jobs moved overseas.
There is widespread anger, spreading into conservative areas,
that Bush is not doing enough to keep those jobs at home or help
“There’s a lot more they could be doing rather than
fattening the rich man’s pocket,” said Michael Rucker,
who was fired from his job at a packing plant.
As Rucker stood in line for help at a state work force
development office in Flint, several cars circled its expansive
parking lot, waiting for a space to open.
“I thought Bush was doing pretty good, but when you
don’t have a job, that makes a difference,” said Chuck
Westerfeld, as he smoked a cigarette outside the building.
Westerfeld said he makes ends meet by doing odd jobs but needs
one with benefits because his girlfriend is pregnant.
He isn’t sure who he’ll vote for in November.
Kerry plans to discuss his ideas for creating jobs during a
visit to the state Friday, with particular emphasis on the
manufacturing sector that has sent jobs abroad.
Republican Rep. Candice Miller, chairwoman of Bush’s
Michigan campaign, acknowledged that the state economy needs to
improve to give Bush a boost.
Economists predict improvement in coming months, she said, and
January’s 6.6 percent unemployment rate was down a full
percentage point from December.
“If the economy goes south, that’s not a good thing
for my guy,” Miller said. “But if the economy gets
good, that’s a bad thing for the Democrats.”
Miller said Bush doesn’t have to win the state, but that
Kerry must to win the presidency.
In 2000, Democrat Al Gore narrowly defeated Bush in Michigan,
one of more than a dozen battleground states Bush and Kerry are
targeting for the general election in November.
Other key states, including Ohio, Pennsylvania and Missouri,
also are suffering economically.
In 2000, Michigan’s annual unemployment rate was below the
national average, at 3.5 percent compared to 4 percent.
After Bush, the rate crept upward, as did the nation’s,
and stood above 7 percent for the last seven months of 2003.
January’s 6.6 percent rate was a full point higher than
the national rate of 5.6 percent.
Poverty also is higher. Under President Clinton, the number of
residents receiving public assistance steadily decreased to 589,000
in 2000, from 1 million in 1992. That number is now at 910,000.
A survey last month by Lansing-based EPIC/MRA showed that a
majority of Michigan voters gave Bush negative ratings on the
economy in every region of the state. Only 38 percent rated
Bush’s handling of the economy as excellent or good, compared
to 61 percent who said it was fair or poor.