PROVIDENCE, R.I. (AP) — Separated at rival conferences by 1,000 miles and a world of political ideology, liberal and conservative activists found themselves united by a deep disappointment with the nation’s economy.
Some of the most passionate voters from both parties suggest that neither presidential candidate has sufficiently sharpened his economic message or clearly outlined a plan to get the nation back on track. Democrats criticize President Obama’s willingness to fight for liberal priorities, while conservatives wonder aloud about presumptive Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney’s conviction to act aggressively on their behalf.
It’s a reminder five months before Election Day that Mr. Obama and Mr. Romney have work to do on the most fundamental issue in the presidential contest.
“Right now, I’d like to see more from both candidates,” said Zack Zarr, a banker from suburban Chicago who was among several hundred gathered Friday at the Conservative Political Action Conference in Chicago.
Democrats at NetRoots Nation in Providence said the economy hasn’t recovered quickly enough under Mr. Obama, an opinion shared by the Republicans in Chicago.
“If you ask somebody about the economy and they tell you anything except that they are frustrated or disappointed, then they’re lying to you,” said Arshad Hasan, executive director of the liberal group Democracy for America, which was founded by former Vermont Gov. Howard Dean. “But the tea party and progressives have a different interpretation of the source of the frustration.”
Indeed, the political activists clashed over the proper prescriptions and cause of the weak economic climate, a reflection of the battle lines already drawn by Mr. Obama and Mr. Romney as they fight for the presidency.
Democrats at NetRoots, like Mr. Obama himself, support new investments in infrastructure, education and clean energy backed by higher taxes on wealthy Americans. They blame steadfast Republican opposition in Congress and the economic crisis that began under President George W. Bush.
A May Washington Post/ABC News poll found registered voters equally divided on whom they trust more to handle the economy. In that poll, 49 percent said they believe Mr. Bush is more responsible for the country’s current economic problems compared with 34 percent who blame Mr. Obama.
The nation’s employers last month added the fewest jobs in a year, stoking fears of a global economic slowdown as Europe’s struggles escalate. It was the third consecutive month of weak job growth. Hiring, housing, consumer spending and manufacturing all appear to be improving yet remain less than healthy.
Mr. Obama addressed economic concerns directly on Friday, declaring at a White House news conference that “the private sector is doing fine.” That prompted instant criticism from Republicans, who said it showed a lack of understanding of the nation’s economic woes.
“Is he really that out of touch?” Mr. Romney charged while campaigning in Iowa.
Clarifying his remarks later in the day, the president said it was “absolutely clear that the economy is not doing fine.” While there had been some “good momentum” in the private sector, he said public-sector growth lagged behind, making it imperative that Congress act on his proposals to boost state and local government jobs.
“I cannot give you a good reason why Congress would not act on these items other than politics,” Mr. Obama said after being asked to respond to the Republican criticism.