Clinton hits Bill's theme - 'The economy, stupid'

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PLYMOUTH, N.H., Oct 12 (Reuters) Bill Clinton rode to victory as US president 15 years ago with a simple slogan: ''It's the economy, stupid!'' Now his wife, Hillary, is making the same point in hopes of a return to the White House.

The former first lady focused on economics this week as she campaigned for president in New Hampshire, where residents have struggled with job losses and an ailing housing market.

''How can we rebuild the road to a strong and prosperous middle class in America? After what this administration has done for the last six-and-a-half years, it will not be an easy task,'' Clinton said on Thursday at Plymouth State University in the state, one of the first to choose nominees for the November 2008 presidential election.

''The rich are getting so much richer, the middle class is running in place and people are falling back into poverty,'' said Clinton, who holds a strong lead in opinion polls among Democrats.

Americans are growing increasingly worried about the nation's economy, making the issue a potentially potent weapon in the battle for the White House.

Democratic political strategist James Carville hung a sign with the phrase ''It's the economy, stupid'' in Bill Clinton's campaign headquarters to keep the candidate on message during his successful 1992 White House bid.

The focus on pocketbook issues helped Clinton defeat Republican President George W Bush's father, George H W Bush, amid sustained economic worries in the early 1990s.

A Pew Research Center poll released yesterday found only 26 per cent believed the US economy was good or excellent last month, down from 33 per cent in June. While inflation and unemployment are low, a troubled housing market and foreclosures on people's homes have raised fears of a recession among economists.

The pace of foreclosures in New Hampshire has more than doubled this year over last.

Republican National Committee spokesman Danny Diaz pointed to 8.1 million jobs created since August 2003 as a sign of a strong economy and accused Clinton of planning to boost taxes and expand the government if elected.

Clinton ''should explain to the American people how forcing devastating tax hikes on the middle class and increasing the number of bureaucrats in Washington will move our economy forward,'' he said.

OBAMA TOO Campaigning earlier this week in the New Hampshire, Clinton's rival for the Democratic nomination, Illinois Sen. Barack Obama, also jumped on the issue.

Speaking at the same small university, the freshman US senator who trails Clinton in the polls spoke of ''workers who get laid off as a consequence of displacement'' and inadequate job training that ''trains people for jobs that don't exist.'' By contrast, several leading Republicans debating earlier this week in Michigan described the nation's economic outlook as ''rosy.'' That didn't convince some New Hampshire voters.

Lou Pare, a retired health care counselor who considers himself an independent voter, said he would not likely vote Republican because of the state of the economy.

''What this state needs is more employment. People are struggling to find work,'' said Pare after hearing both Clinton and Obama.

Also listening to both candidates was salesman Andrew Hosner of Laconia, who applauded proposals by Democrats to train workers better. He said he has trouble finding educated technicians to work in his business.

''It was refreshing to hear someone stand in front of us here and talk about not just feeding the economy through tax cuts but feeding the economy by training and educating the work force that we need so we can become major exporters and not major importers,'' Hosner said.

REUTERS SYU BST2157

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