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WASHINGTON (AP) _ Orders to U.S. factories for big-ticket durable goods plunged 5.9 percent in September, the biggest decline in 10 months, the government reported Friday, providing further evidence that the economy is struggling to mount a sustainable recovery from last year's recession.

The Commerce Department said that the drop in demand for durable goods, manufactured products expected to last three or more years, was the third decline in the past four months and reflected widespread weakness throughout American manufacturing with orders down for everything from cars to communications equipment.

With less than two weeks before Americans are scheduled to go to the polls to decide which party will control Congress, Democrats have gone on the attack, hoping to use the uncertain economic recovery to their advantage against Republicans in close House and Senate races.

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