, HILLIARD, Ohio, Nov 2 – President Barack Obama dodged a serious last-minute blow to his re-election hopes on Friday, with the release of data showing the sluggish US economy created more jobs than expected last month.
Republican Mitt Romney, however, seized on an uptick in the jobless rate by a tenth of point to 7.9 percent to bemoan an economy at a “virtual standstill” and said Americans would choose on Tuesday between prosperity and stagnation.
“For four years, President Obama’s policies have crushed America’s middle class,” Romney said in a statement.
“When I’m president, I’m going to make real changes that lead to a real recovery, so that the next four years are better than the last.”
Obama was due to give his reaction to the unemployment numbers at his first rally of the day in the battleground state of Ohio, the epicentre of the last Friday of the White House race, where Romney was also campaigning.
The impending release of the final major economic data before the tied-up election had jangled nerves of Obama aides who feared a leap in the rate above the psychological eight percent mark could have sent late-deciding voters to Romney.
But although the data was far from spectacular – with 171,000 jobs created last month – there was enough in the report, including upward revisions of previous monthly figures for Obama to argue the economy was improving.
The consensus of economic analysts had been for job creation of around 125,000 in October.
Many analysts doubted that barring a disastrous slump in the data, that there would be much impact on the election, but the pace of job creation does perhaps explain Obama’s stable position in some midwestern swing states.
And the figures by the Bureau of Labor and Statistics were an apt metaphor for the entire campaign, revealing an economic recovery neither bad enough to doom Obama nor sufficiently robust to get him re-elected at a canter.
Obama will hold rallies on Friday across Ohio, where he plans to tell voters how he will create jobs over the next four years.
Romney, meanwhile, will be chasing Obama’s tail in Wisconsin, before heading to Ohio to hold a big evening rally with running mate Paul Ryan and family members in West Chester, near the Republican stronghold of Cincinnati.
Most recent polls show Obama up in Ohio, by between two and five points, and Romney cannot afford to give up on a state which every modern Republican president has won on the way to winning the White House.
With just four days of campaigning left, neither campaign, despite their bravado, can be completely confident about the result.
The RealClearPolitics average of national polls Thursday showed a tie, though Obama appears better positioned than Romney in many of the less than a dozen swing states that will decide the election.