WASHINGTON -- The economy lost momentum in the spring and probably is in for a spell of somewhat sluggish growth ahead, which could weigh on voters when they go to the polls in November.
The latest snapshot that the Commerce Department provided of the economy yesterday showed that economic activity grew at just a 2.9 percent annual rate during the April-to-June quarter.
Although that was a slight improvement over the government's first estimate of a 2.5 percent growth rate, it nevertheless provided vivid evidence of just how much momentum the economy has lost since last winter.
In the January-to-March quarter, the economy had grown at a brisk 5.6 percent pace, the fastest spurt in 2 1/2 years.
The main culprits in the spring slowdown: belt-tightening by consumers and businesses, the fallout from high energy prices, and a cooling of the once-sizzling housing market.
Economic growth in the second half of this year is expected to stay subdued, at a pace of around 2.5 percent to 3 percent, according to some analysts' projections. Economists hope the soft spell doesn't morph into a more dangerous slowdown.
Voters' perceptions of the economy may influence their choices at the polls.
``Economic conditions are the most enduring variable in congressional elections," said Ross Baker, a political science professor at Rutgers University. ``It is not just the numbers -- it is how people feel about the economy."
President Bush and his fellow Republicans believe Americans are mostly better off. Democratic rivals disagree .
Commerce Secretary Carlos Gutierrez said the president's ``strong track record on the economy has helped many more families live the American dream."
But Senator Jack Reed, a Rhode Island Democrat, worried that a sharper economic slowdown could jack up the unemployment rate, now at a five-month high of 4.8 percent. ``Economic growth is starting to slow even before most Americans have received any of the benefits of this recovery," he said.