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Is Chris Christie the right messenger for the GOP on the economy?

August 17, 2012|By Michael A. Memoli
(AP Photo/Mel Evans )

WASHINGTON -- New state-by-state employment data paint a gloomy picture for President Obama with 81 days to go before election day, with 44 states recording unemployment rate increases in the past month.

But for a Republican Party pursuing an economic case against Obama, the data also reflect why New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie may not be an ideal keynote speaker for the GOP at its convention in Tampa, Fla., later this month.

The latest Labor Department report, released Friday, shows that New Jersey’s unemployment rate climbed to 9.8% in July, the fourth-highest in the country, and the highest in the state in 35 years.

The Garden State is also one of only two states, along with neighboring New York, to have hit a new high in unemployment in the past four years. Other have seen their unemployment rates drop, in some cases significantly, from the recent highs during the economic downturn that began in 2008.

In an interview with USA Today discussing his selection as the RNC convention keynote speaker, Christie said he planned to “tell some very direct and hard truths to people in the country about the trouble that we're in and the fact that fixing those problems is not going to be easy for any of them." He also said, according to the newspaper, that he’d cite his experiences in New Jersey as proof that "the American people are ready to confront those problems head-on and endure some sacrifice."

New Jersey’s unemployment rate stood at 9.7% when Christie took office in January 2010.

In a statement on the latest jobs report, Christie’s office said that, “over the long term we’re experiencing positive job growth.” The state has added 79,000 private sector jobs since February 2010.

And in a move that calls to mind Obama’s case against House Republicans, Christie’s office says that the Democratic-controlled state Legislature is blocking measures that would further spur job growth, like his latest “tax relief” proposal.

“Every single day that passes without a commitment to get tax relief done, we are slowing our recovery and missing the opportunity to grow our economy and create real jobs,” the statement reads.

Christie has been trying to sell the idea of a “New Jersey comeback” in his state. Since taking office he has pushed through property tax, budget and education reforms, at times with support from Democrats, but also occasionally through bruising fights with teachers and state employee unions. Those battles have made him a national hero among conservatives, leading to his selection as the keynote speaker.

For Obama, Friday’s jobs report presents challenges as well. The unemployment rate is now lower today in 17 states than it was the month Obama took office. In four states, the unemployment rate is unchanged, and in 29 it is up since January 2009.

Nevada, which has the nation’s highest unemployment rate overall as of July, is tied with New Jersey for having the greatest unemployment rate increase since Obama’s term began, at 2.4 points.

Other swing states with significant jobless rate increases during his tenure include Colorado (+1.7), Pennsylvania (+1.1), New Mexico (+0.9) and North Carolina (+0.6).

On the other hand, Michigan (-2.3), Ohio (-1.4) and Iowa (-0.8) recorded significant unemployment rate decreases since Obama took office.

“President Obama may believe his economic policies ‘worked’ – but today’s disappointing employment report shows otherwise with unemployment on the rise in 44 out of 50 states,” Romney campaign spokesperson Amanda Henneberg said in a statement.

michael.memoli@latimes.com

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