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Lynn Sweet: Obama’s political migraine over slow job growth hard to treat

President Barack Obamwaves as he walks off Air Force One after arriving O'Hare Friday. |  PAUL BEATY~AP

President Barack Obama waves as he walks off Air Force One after arriving at O'Hare on Friday. | PAUL BEATY~AP

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Updated: July 7, 2012 8:08AM



WASHINGTON — President Barack Obama wakes up Saturday morning in his Kenwood home with what had been a political headache blown into a migraine: the disappointing number of jobs created in May.

Job growth has always been Obama’s main vulnerability. Lagging growth — as demonstrated in Friday’s jobs report — threatens Obama’s re-election if voters become convinced Republican Mitt Romney can do more to create jobs. The central question of the campaign: Who can grow more jobs, faster?

The jobless rate for May was 8.2 percent, an increase of only 0.1 percent from April’s 8.1 rate. But up is up. Much, much, more troubling than the percentage is the whole number: Only 69,000 jobs created last month for the entire nation. That downbeat jobs report helped drive the Dow to its worst day of the year.

The bleak jobs news triggered a new assault Friday on Obama’s handling of the economy by Romney and Republican congressional leaders.

Before touching down in Chicago for three fund-raisers — scooping up about $3 million — Obama was in Minnesota laying out — with some new language — his record of stopping the massive job losses he was faced with when he came to office.

“We’re still fighting our way back from the worst economic crisis since the Great Depression,” Obama said Friday at a Honeywell plant in Minnesota.

Obama noted that private sector jobs have increased for the past 27 months. While there are more jobs, there were also more people in the labor force in May.

The retooled explanation: “The economy is growing again,” Obama said at Honeywell, “but it’s not growing as fast as we want it to grow.” That line, I’m told by a campaign insider, will be “increasingly emphasized” by Obama and his surrogates.

But even if more than 69,000 jobs were created — even if the number were doubled — Romney, et al would likely argue the growth is not fast enough. That’s what they have said when the monthly jobless rates have ticked down.

If there are more jobs in each of the next five months, Obama’s chances of re-election improve. One member of the Obama re-election team told me Friday that if not for the slow job growth, the election would not be as close as it is.

Obama is on the defensive when it comes to jobs.

What’s new here in the discussion of jobs and the 2012 election are the very real possibilities that the European economy will implode before November — at the same time that China’s growth is slowing down. The European and Asia markets have an enormous impact on the U.S. economy.

What’s not new is Obama blaming the Republican Congress for blocking many of his jobs initiatives — though they did agree on extending a payroll tax cut and patent reform and seem headed toward a deal on a highway infrastructure bill.

Jobs, as they say in politics, are a “foundational” issue.

The slow recovery is why Romney has been pounding Obama on jobs for months. That’s why the job message is emphasized in the handful of battleground states — many with high unemployment — where the November election will be decided.

A stock line in Romney’s stump speech is that Obama is just not up to the task of reviving the economy because “he’s over his head.” Romney said it again Friday in an interview on CNBC.

While Obama in his Minneapolis speech warned about the ripple effect of the global economy on U.S. job creation, Romney argued that if Obama grew jobs faster, a meltdown in other economies would not have as big an impact.

“Of course the developments around the world always influence our jobs. But we should be well into a very robust recovery by now, if the president’s policies had worked,” Romney told CNBC, sitting in front of a sign with his campaign slogan: “Putting Jobs First.”

The Obama campaign this week shifted from hitting Romney’s tenure as chief of Bain Capital LLC to a second punch, arguing he didn’t do enough, while governor, to help the Massachusetts economy. The Obama team is pressing the case that Romney would be worse than Obama when it comes to creating jobs.

Obama’s political migraine will be hard to treat, even if he takes comfort with a night back home — even cooking in his own kitchen, as he joked Friday night. For five months until the November election, he will face a stark number that will be increasingly hard to explain — or blame away.



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