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“So the question becomes, are you doing that because of politics?” Obama said. “Are you abandoning a principle that you fought for, for six years simply because you’re getting pressure for two days from Rush Limbaugh or some critics in Washington?”

The jobless numbers promised to command attention Friday and determine the nature of the political debate. The unemployment and hiring figures provide monthly milestones with which to measure the human toll of the weak economic recovery.

Republicans were quick to pounce on the report, declaring that Obama’s policies had failed.

“The president bet on a failed ‘stimulus’ spending binge that led to 41 months of unemployment above 8 percent,” House Speaker John Boehner said Friday. “He bet on a government takeover of health care that’s driving up costs and making it harder for small businesses to hire.”

Democrats sought to capitalize on the jobs created, which at 80,000 is not enough to keep up with population growth but sustains a string of months where the private sector has increased hiring.

“With the private sector continuing to create jobs for the twenty-eighth consecutive month, our economic recovery continues to push forward,” Rep. Steny Hoyer of Maryland, the second ranking Democrat in the House, said in a statement.

Friday’s jobless report comes as the public’s confidence about the economy is already wavering. The percentage of people in an Associated Press-GfK poll last month that said the economy got better in the past month fell below 20 percent for the first time since fall. And few said they expected much improvement in the unemployment rate in the coming year.

Romney has not been able to exploit that sentiment fully. In national polls, the president either retains a slight edge or is in a statistical tie with his challenger.

The economic data continues to provide a mixed picture of the 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 in June. And a report last week said U.S. manufacturing shrank in June for the first time in nearly three years, undermining a top Obama talking point.

In selecting Ohio and Pennsylvania for his two-day bus tour, Obama began a more retail-oriented phase of his campaign in two battleground states that have had better economic experiences than other parts of the country. Both states had unemployment rates of 7.3 percent in May, well below the national average of 8.2 percent.