WASHINGTON: The final key economic report before the U.S. presidential election held something for both candidates Friday.
The report showed the monthly unemployment rate ticked up slightly, but far more jobs were created than expected as voters decide between a second term for President Barack Obama or a change to Republican challenger Mitt Romney.
With polls showing the candidates locked in one of the closest presidential contests in recent U.S. history, Obama argues that the economy is well, if slowly, on the road to recovery from the Great Recession.
“We’ve made real progress,” he said in Ohio shortly after the report. “But we’ve got more work to do.”
Romney called the jobs report a “sad reminder that the economy is at a virtual standstill.”
“Candidate Obama promised change, but he couldn’t deliver it,” Romney charged. “I promise change, but I have a record of achieving it.”
“We are four days away from a fresh start,” Romney told a raucous crowd in Wisconsin.
“My conviction that better days are ahead is not based on promises and hollow rhetoric but solid plans and proven results,” he said.
Obama retorted that Romney was “a very talented salesman,” trying to repackage the old-school Republican policies that left so many Americans in financial trouble.
“We know what change looks like,” Obama told an Ohio crowd. “And what the governor is offering ain’t it.”
Obama will face voters with the highest unemployment of any incumbent since Franklin Roosevelt during the Great Depression of the 1930s.
U.S. employers added 171,000 jobs in October, and hiring was stronger over the previous two months than first thought. The unemployment rate inched up to 7.9 percent from 7.8 percent in September because the work force grew. This brings it back above the 7.8 percent when Obama took office.
While the report could attract undecided voters toward Obama in the closing days of the long and brutal campaign for the White House, the candidates were expected to go into Election Day in a virtual tie.
The economy is easily the biggest issue for voters. Throughout the campaign, Obama has claimed credit for preventing deeper problems, reminding voters that the economy fell into recession under Republican predecessor George W. Bush. Romney argues the continued economic weakness demonstrates Obama’s policy failures and says his own record as a successful businessman proves he can do better.
Friday’s report came after other signs that the economy was on the mend. Most importantly, consumer confidence is up to its highest level since February of 2008, according to the Conference Board.
“We’re not where we all want to end up, but we are making serious important progress moving forward,” Obama senior campaign adviser Robert Gibbs said on “CBS This Morning” before the jobs report was released.
“While more work remains to be done, today’s employment report provides further evidence that the U.S. economy is continuing to heal from the wounds inflicted by the worst downturn since the Great Depression,” said the chairman of the president’s Council of Economic Advisers, Alan Krueger.
With the new report in hand, both candidates were plunging into a hectic pace of campaigning, with Obama eager to fend off Romney in the crucial battleground state of Ohio. Romney pushed to expand the contest to other states, notably Pennsylvania, to secure the 270 electoral votes needed to win. Pennsylvania has routinely backed the Democratic standard-bearer and has been seen as reliably in the Obama column.
Polls show Obama holds a slight lead in a majority of the battleground contests where the outcome of the vote is likely to be determined. Under the U.S. system, the nationwide popular vote does not determine the winner. Romney and Obama are actually competing to win at least 270 electoral votes in state-by-state contests.
Obama had three stops in Ohio Friday. Romney was set to hold two rallies there.
In Wisconsin Friday, Romney was warning that re-electing Obama would threaten another government shutdown and national default.
“My conviction that better days are ahead is not based on promises and hollow rhetoric but solid plans and proven results,” Romney told a raucous crowd there.
Obama paused three days this week to manage the crisis surrounding superstorm Sandy. Romney muted criticism of the president during those days for fear of appearing to seek political advantage while Americans were suffering, and his campaign watched awkwardly as a once-prominent Obama critic and Romney supporter, New Jersey’s Republican Gov. Chris Christie, praised the president and toured storm damage with him.
Obama scored the endorsement Thursday of New York City’s popular Mayor Michael Bloomberg, who said the storm had made the election’s stakes even clearer. Bloomberg, whose city was hit hard, said the climate is changing and that Obama has taken major steps in the right direction on that issue.
The vote of confidence from the politically independent third-term mayor of America’s largest city was a major boost for Obama. Both candidates had eagerly sought the backing of Bloomberg, a former Republican who didn’t endorse a presidential candidate in 2008.