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Mr. McCain said Friday that his opponent’s economic agenda was “based upon the policies of the past that advocate higher taxes, bigger government…and greater isolation” from global trade.

Despite the subprime mortgage and credit debacles, skyrocketing oil and gas prices and the Democrats’ characterization of an economy in recession, the 5.5 percent unemployment rate remained low by historical comparisons.

The nation’s jobless rate rose to 10.8 during the two-year recession under President Reagan in the early 1980s and was still at 7.4 percent when Mr. Reagan was running for re-election in 1984 on an optimistic “morning in America” campaign heralding the economy’s turnaround. He carried 49 states.

Many economists, including Federal Reserve Board Chairman Ben Bernanke, say they think the economy will begin turning upward in the middle of the year and there are some faint signs that already has begun to happen.

“Right now I think the economy is in neutral. Half of the indicators are looking positive and half are looking negative. There’s a heck of a lot of economic stimulus kicking around, so it’s possible the economy might rebound by the fall,” said Kevin Hassett, a senior economic adviser to the McCain campaign.

“If we are in a recession, it will be one of the shallowest ever,” Mr. Hassett said last week.

Economic growth rose ever so slightly from an anemic 0.6 percent in the fourth quarter last year to 0.9 percent in the first three months of this year, despite widespread forecasts of zero growth. Many economists expect growth to rise to around 1 percent in the second quarter and move higher in the second half of the year as the Fed’s interest rate cuts and tax rebates to 130 million Americans fully kick in this summer.

Meantime, the Commerce Department reported that new home sales rose 3.8 percent and pending sales of existing homes rose more than 6 percent in April, durable goods orders for electrical equipment and appliances increased by 27.8 percent, and U.S. exports grew by nearly 3 percent in the first three months of the year.