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Economy Has Not Been Top Focus For Trump In Midterm Campaigns


The American job market is getting better and better. U.S. employers added a quarter million jobs last month, while the unemployment rate held steady at its lowest level in nearly half a century. That snapshot from the Labor Department comes just days before the midterm elections and could give a boost to Republicans, who control both the House and Senate. But President Trump has not been focusing on the booming economy as he campaigns around the country. NPR's Scott Horsley reports.

SCOTT HORSLEY, BYLINE: The monthly jobs report could hardly have been better if it had been written by a Republican campaign office. As White House economist Kevin Hassett notes, it shows the best wage gains over the last 12 months in nearly a decade along with better-than-expected hiring for workers of all kinds.

KEVIN HASSETT: One of the things that really struck us was that there wasn't a single industry in the detail that went down. And so this is about as broad and widespread of an advance as you could possibly see.

HORSLEY: GOP pollster Whit Ayres says this is the kind of track record that the party in power would ordinarily be shouting about.

WHIT AYRES: Most Republican candidates would love to be talking about the strong economy, the record stock market and the decline in stifling regulations. That doesn't seem to be the game plan of the president.

HORSLEY: Instead Trump's campaign playbook is dominated by hot-button social issues like the Supreme Court and, especially in recent days, illegal immigration.


PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: This will be an election of Kavanaugh, the caravan, law and order and common sense. That's what it's going to be.

HORSLEY: Trump does occasionally include jobs in that list, but it's never in first place. His is an ominous message about a country under siege from invading immigrants, unfair trading partners and mob rule here at home. It's a stark contrast from the way other Republican presidents have highlighted the economy in the past.


UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #1: It's morning again in America. Today more men and women will go to work than ever before in our country's history.

HORSLEY: That's just as true today as it was when Ronald Reagan was campaigning more than 30 years ago. But while Trump does boast about the booming economy, he's just as likely to talk about job growth as a magnet for illegal immigration.


TRUMP: This is a perilous situation, and it threatens to become even more hazardous as our economy gets better and better.

AYRES: That is the difference between Ronald Reagan and Donald Trump and their entire political approach.

HORSLEY: GOP pollster Ayres says Trump's midnight in America message seems grounded in the idea that fear and resentment are more potent tools for mobilizing voters than sunny, optimistic claims about expanding jobs and paychecks.

AYRES: That may be true in deep red states and districts. It is less true in swing states and districts.

HORSLEY: This week, the Trump campaign did introduce a television ad that appears to be tailored to some of those swing districts. It features a suburban mom and her daughter.


UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #2: When I look at the way things are, it reminds me how far we've come.

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #3: These numbers...

HORSLEY: The ad exaggerates the scale of the Trump turnaround by using news clips from the depths of the recession, not 2016, when the president was elected and the recovery was already well underway. Still, the ad does offer an upbeat assessment of America's strong economy before it concludes with an ominous warning of its own.


UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #2: But this could all go away if we don't remember what we came from.

HORSLEY: The way that voters respond to these messages may determine which lawmakers keep their jobs next week and which ones wind up looking for work. Scott Horsley, NPR News, Washington. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Scott Horsley is NPR's Chief Economics Correspondent. He reports on ups and downs in the national economy as well as fault lines between booming and busting communities.

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