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Romney surrogate McDonnell says Obama stimulus plan helped Virginia

Virginia Gov. Bob McDonnell (R) wandered off script somewhat Sunday as a surrogate for the Mitt Romney presidential campaign, conceding that President Obama’s stimulus measures helped his state weather the economic crisis.

McDonnell, a potential vice presidential candidate who has sought to walk a tightrope between conservatives and moderates, acknowledged on CNN’s “State of the Union” that federal assistance aided Virginia in balancing its budget, but said it had no positive long-term impact.

“Did it help us in the short run with health care and education and spending to balance the budget? Sure,” McDonnell said. “Does it help us in the long term to really cut the unemployment rate? I’d say no.”

The remarks were part of a war of words between Obama and Romney surrogates in the wake of Friday’s disappointing jobs report, which showed just 69,000 jobs added in May and a slight uptick in the unemployment rate to 8.2 percent. The numbers slowed in part because of continued losses in public-sector jobs and continued weakness in construction.

Romney adviser Ed Gillespie said the stumbling economy and weak performance by the Obama campaign boded well for the Republican candidate’s chances in November.

“There’s clearly a feeling in Boston that governor Romney is going to beat President Obama,” Gillespie said on “Fox News Sunday,” referring to the Romney campaign’s home base. “. . . Governor Romney’s experience and his record and his positive agenda for turning this country around, I think, are what’s going to prevail at the end of the day.”

Gillespie also echoed other Romney advisers in seeking to distance the candidate from former president George W. Bush, who continues to shoulder most of the blame among voters for the 2008 economic collapse. Gillespie said Romney’s fiscal plans are different than Bush’s because they would include broad spending cuts and closing tax loopholes.

But Steven Rattner, who oversaw the Obama administration’s rescue of the auto industry, said the economic outlook would be much worse without Obama’s efforts. Rattner also chided Republicans in Congress for failing to act on jobs proposals and said Romney’s financial plans would not fix the economy.

“Nobody is happy with the rate of job creation today, but I believe without the policies the president put in place we wouldn’t have even this level of job creation today,” Rattner said on “Fox News Sunday,” pointing to about 4 million jobs added since the economy hit bottom.

During his CNN appearance, when asked whether Obama deserved “just a tiny bit of credit” for helping the economy, McDonnell said: “Well, sure. I think there are national policies that have had some impact.”

But McDonnell also criticized Obama for “overburdensome regulations” and argued that Republican-led states have fared better during the downturn and struggling recovery.

“Think how much better we’d do if we had President Romney,” he said.

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