The campaign of Republican presidential challenger Mitt Romney has received fresh ammunition just four months from Election Day after an anemic jobs report kept the US’ economic woes firmly atop the list of voter anxieties, damaging US President Barack Obama’s bid for re-election.
Meanwhile, Obama challenged Romney’s vows to get tough on China, saying in a new ad that Romney “made a fortune” allowing China to take US jobs.
In an election year when the economy is expected to be the decisive issue, the US Department of Labor said on Friday that US employers added only 80,000 jobs last month — a third straight month of weak hiring — leaving the unemployment rate unchanged at 8.2 percent. The figures have left no doubt that the US economy is still struggling three years after the recession was deemed to have officially ended.
The report offered a new chance for Romney to seize momentum and counter concern among prominent conservatives that he is squandering his chance to win the presidency with a play-it-safe strategy and a muddled message on the economy.
The former Massachusetts governor found himself in a less than optimal place for talking about the weak economy. He was vacationing with his family at his lakeside home in New Hampshire, a holiday that the Wall Street Journal’s editorial page said played into the “rich-gay” caricature that Democrats have tried to paint.
Romney interrupted his vacation on Friday to react to the jobs report and issue a biting indictment of Obama’s economic leadership. He said the president represented liberal policies that had been discredited.
“This kick in the gut has got to end,” Romney said.
“American families are struggling, there’s a lot of misery in America today,” he added. “The president’s policies have not gotten America working again. And the president is going to have to stand up and take responsibility for it.”
Obama positioned himself before the report to make the best of the bad news. He was on the second day of an Ohio-Pennsylvania bus tour, two hard-hit states that have made some recent economic advances and have jobless rates nearly a percentage point below the national average of 8.2 percent.
The president sought consolation from job growth by private business, calling it “a step in the right direction” and pleading with voters to stick with him.
“It’s still tough out there,” Obama conceded to a campaign crowd in Poland, Ohio.
Still, the US president said that the private sector jobs created last month contributed to 4.4 million new jobs over the past 28 months, including 500,000 new manufacturing jobs.
“We’ve got to grow the economy even faster, and we have to put even more people back to work,” he said.
On his tour, Obama was promoting policies that he says have helped states such as Pennsylvania and Ohio, particularly the government bailout of Chrysler and General Motors.
“We saved an auto industry. That saved hundreds of thousands of jobs here in Ohio,” Obama said in an interview with NBC affiliate WLWT in Cincinnati that was aired on Friday.
However, economic data continue to provide a mixed picture of the economic recovery. Weekly unemployment benefit applications dropped last week to the lowest number since the week of May 19. At the same time, retailers recorded tepid sales last month. A report this week said US manufacturing shrank last month for the first time in nearly three years, undermining a top Obama talking point.