WASHINGTON -- When it comes to economic policy, the choice between President Bush and Bill Clinton is clear and reflects long-standing party differences over the role of government in managing the nation's affairs.

But the widespread job losses in many parts of the country have left a lot of people hurting and wondering whether government can, in fact, help get things going again. It is a sentiment that favors the Democrats in tomorrow's election.

Bush, pressed by the need to have campaign literature showing he has comprehensive domestic program that could match Bill Clinton's, came up with programs for health-care reform, education, investment, urban aid, and other issues of interest to the electorate. In fairness to the President, many of these programs were part of his agenda long before the campaign and got hoisted by a Democratic Congress.

Still, in his heart of hearts, Bush distrusts government and suspects that even the best-intentioned programs can go awry. He looks to the private sector for capital and jobs, which are what drive the economy year in and year out.

Bill Clinton, for all his rhetoric about valuing the private sector and being a new breed of Democrat, looks to government to make things better. This is best encapsulated in his call to "rebuild America," which suggests the nation needs to have all its parts cleaned and reassembled.

Normally, an appeal from a Democratic challenger to stir the benign hand of government in a more efficient and equitable allocation of resources would not play against an incumbent Republican president. Americans are suspicious of government, which explains why Ross Perot's harangues against bureaucrats and the ways of Washington have an appealing ring.

But these are not normal times. The newspapers continue to carry stories of major corporations cutting white-collar payrolls, and even people with jobs are fearful about their future. Incomes are stagnant, and a generation of two-income families is exhausted.

According to the Labor Department's Bureau of Labor Statistics, the total number of jobs on private nonfarm payrolls in September was 89.82 million, which was 35,000 fewer than when Bush took office. Ironically, the only growth during that same period came in government jobs, which increased 997,000 to 18.59 million.

As voters go to the polls, they can consider that the government work force was the only sector of the labor market to expand under the Bush administration. In sheer numbers, there is now one worker at the local, state, or federal level for every five in the private sector.

But while the total number of jobs has remained essentially flat during the Bush term, 20 states and the District of Columbia have suffered job losses totaling 2.63 million in the last three years. These states include California and New York, as well as other states along the East Coast and in the industrial heartland. These are the states with large electoral votes, and they suggest that Clinton will be able to pull off a classic Democratic victory that offsets traditional Republican strength in the South and the West.

The 12 states with the largest job losses are: New York (552,000), California (424,000), Massachusetts (346,000), New Jersey (314,000), Pennsylvania (184,000), Connecticut (172,000), Maryland (124,000), Michigan (70,000), Virginia (70,000), New Hampshire (53,000), Rhode Island (50,000), and Ohio (48,000).

Other states with job losses include Delaware, Florida, Georgia, Illinois, Maine, Missouri, South Carolina, and Vermont. In some cases, while these states do not rank at the top in terms of job losses because of their population, the losses have been painful. Maine and Vermont have lost 5.6% and 5.8%, respectively, of their total work force. California, by comparison, lost 3.3%.

Combined, the states that have lost jobs pull 307 electoral votes, which is comfortably more than the 270 votes needed to win. Even throwing out Virginia and Georgia, which each have 13 votes and could end up falling into the Bush column, there is a bloc of 281 disaffected votes that makes up Clinton's natural hunting ground.

The Republicans, champions of growth, have lost by their own measure of success. It looks like Clinton, in a walk, to the White House.

States with Job Losses

Sept. 1989 -- Sept. 1992

Lost Electoral

State Jobs Votes

California 424,000 54

Connecticut 172,000 8

Delaware 11,000 3

District of Columbia 12,000 3

Florida 30,000 25

Georgia 4,000 13

Illinois 42,000 22

Maine 30,000 4

Maryland 124,000 10

Massachusetts 346,000 12

Michigan 70,000 18

Missouri 46,000 11

New Hampshire 53,000 4

New Jersey 314,000 15

New York 552,000 33

Ohio 48,000 21

Pennsylvania 184,000 23

Rhode Island 50,000 4

South Carolina 10,000 8

Vermont 15,000 3

Virginia 70,000 13

Total (out of 538 available): 307

Needed to win presidential race: 270

Source: U.S. Labor Department

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