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Two days after Mitt Romney reignited his campaign with what many voters saw as a winning debate performance, Republicans were struggling once again to find their footing after a positive September jobs report muted the campaign’s main talking point.

obama crowd

Romney and his surrogates reacted to the news that the unemployment rate had dropped below 8 percent with a flurry of new arguments:

  • that the economy is still moving too slowly,
  • that the jobless rate should really be 11 percent if you count all the people who have dropped out of the workforce, and
  • that the recovery will take even longer if President Obama is reelected.

Some Republicans even suggested that the numbers had been manipulated by the Obama administration.

Romney, who has centered his campaign on job creation and cast himself as a Mr. Fixit with business experience that could be applied to the larger economy, has frequently cited Obama’s inability to get the rate below 8 percent as a reason that he should not be reelected. But on Friday, the Labor Department reported that the nation had added 114,000 jobs in September and that the jobless rate had fallen to 7.8 percent, the lowest since Obama took office in 2009.

Stumping in Virginia, Romney was forced to recast his attack on the administration’s economic policies by downplaying the positive news on job creation and focusing instead on the pace of growth.

“There was a report that just came out this morning on job creation this last month. There were fewer new jobs created this month than last month,” Romney said at a rally in Arlington County. “And the unemployment rate, as you noted this year, has come down very, very slowly, but it’s come down nonetheless. The reason it’s come down this year is primarily due to the fact that more and more people have just stopped looking for work.”

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Other Republicans sounded a similar theme, acknowledging some good news in the report but saying that the recovery has taken too long because Obama’s policies simply have not worked.

“While there is positive news in today’s report, job creation is far too slow and the unemployment rate is far too high,” House Speaker John A. Boehner (Ohio) said in a statement. “Administration officials said unemployment would be as low as 5.6 percent by now if Congress passed their ‘stimulus’ spending bill — instead, after four years of spending, taxing, and red tape, millions of Americans remain jobless, underemployed, or have simply given up looking for work.”

Obama, whose performance in Wednesday night’s presidential debate was criticized as lackluster and ineffective, seized on the numbers Friday to underscore his campaign message that the country is slowly recovering and that he needs a second term to finish the job.

“This morning, we found out that the unemployment rate has fallen to its lowest level since I took office. More Americans entered the workforce. More people are getting jobs,” Obama said at a rally in Fairfax.

[dc]“N[/dc]ow, every month reminds us that we’ve still got too many of our friends and neighbors who are looking for work. And there are too many middle-class families that are still struggling to pay the bills — they were struggling long before the crisis hit," he continued. "But today’s news certainly is not an excuse to try to talk down the economy to score a few political points. It’s a reminder that this country has come too far to turn back now.”

nia malika henderson
Rachel Weiner

Nia Malika Hendewrson and Rachel Weiner
The Washington Post

Republished with the author's permission on Sunday, 7 October 2012