- The Washington Times - Sunday, June 6, 2004

John Kerry hasn’t had as much to say about the economy in recent weeks, a sign that he may be downplaying his party’s biggest domestic issue in a surge of new job creation and economic growth, administration officials said yesterday.

The Massachusetts senator has been focusing lately, to the exclusion of virtually everything else, on a series of major speeches on national security and terrorism, all but abandoning the drumbeat of criticism on President Bush’s economic policies that propelled his campaign in the Democratic presidential primaries. Democratic leaders, too, appear to have muted their focus on jobs and the economy — as the postwar situation in Iraq has intensified and as the number of new jobs has accelerated in the past five months, especially in many of the battleground states.

“I sure haven’t seen them talk very much about it in recent weeks,” Commerce Secretary Donald L. Evans said in an interview with The Washington Times. “I think they are having a hard time dealing with the fact that the president’s economic policies to create jobs, which they said would not work, are in fact working.”

Pointing to the creation of more than 1 million jobs thus far this year and 1.4 million jobs since August, Mr. Evans said that Mr. Kerry’s campaign has been rooted in “pessimism about the American people” and politically based on an attempt “to try and scare the American people” with comparisons to the Great Depression.

But Mr. Evans and other senior administration officials said that Mr. Kerry’s campaign will find it increasingly difficult to maintain its credibility if he resumes his attacks on Mr. Bush’s policies in the face of a growing, job-producing economy. The Labor Department reported Friday that 248,000 jobs were created in May and revised its employment figures for March and April, which came in at 353,000 and 346,000 jobs, respectively.

Mr. Evans would not project how many new jobs will be created between now and November but said, “We’ve got a powerful economy that has a lot of momentum behind it right now. The trend looks good.”

“They are definitely running silent [on the economy],” said another senior administration official. “Part of the reason for that is that their criticism demonstrates they are out of touch with what’s going on in the economy. You can’t go out there, particularly when talking to business leaders, and say this is the worst economy in 70 years. No one will take you seriously.”

Some Kerry campaign officials, though not all, acknowledged that he has not been devoting as much attention to the economy lately because of his decision to concentrate virtually full time in the past week or two on a series of speeches on national security, defense and terrorism, issues on which Mr. Bush continues to hold a large lead over his Democratic rival.

“He has been focusing pretty much on national security, one of the most important issues the country faces,” said Kerry campaign spokesman Allison Dobson. “I suppose it’s true that the economy is better than it was, but that’s like a sprinkle in the desert. He’ll be talking about those issues in the coming weeks.”

But administration officials believe that the senator’s shift to foreign policy and defense issues is a calculated, strategic political move that has more to do with the economy’s strong recovery and polls showing that voters are somewhat less concerned about the economy now, while national security, homeland defense and the war on terrorism have loomed in importance.

Officials in Ralph Nader’s campaign wonder why Mr. Kerry has not given equal weight in the last couple of weeks to economic issues. “Nader is talking about foreign policy and the economy at the same time. I think Kerry will talk about the economy,” Nader spokesman Kevin Zeese said.

Meantime, a senior administration official said “we pulled out all the stops” to promote the new jobs numbers. Dozens of officials at the Commerce, Treasury and Labor departments and the White House were called on to promote the economic numbers in interviews with the press. Commerce officials alone conducted 80 interviews Friday with various news outlets around the country.

Yet even that effort, administration officials said, will pale in comparison to a planned full-court press two weeks from now when the Labor Department will release its new state-by-state jobs breakdown, which is expected to bolster the president’s claim that his policies are creating new jobs across the country.

Still, while Kerry spokesman David Wade acknowledged that the senator has been focusing on national-security issues lately, he said that did not mean the campaign was downplaying the issue of the economy.

“He never left it. We are going to talk about that every single day of this campaign,” he said.

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