- Associated Press - Friday, September 7, 2012

CHARLOTTE, N.C. (AP) — President Barack Obama emerged from the euphoria of his party’s convention Friday and ran smack into the harsh reality of a bleak new report on the nation’s unemployment outlook. Republican rival Mitt Romney pounced on the disappointing jobs figures as fresh evidence that it’s time to put someone new in the Oval Office.

Obama and Romney shadow each other Friday: Both campaign in New Hampshire and Iowa, improbable battleground states in the too-close-to-call race. Their campaigning was sure to be dominated by the new Labor Department report showing that U.S. employers added just 96,000 jobs last month, failing to meet expectations.

The unemployment rate fell to 8.1 percent from 8.3 percent in July, but only because more people gave up looking for work.

“After 43 straight months of unemployment above 8 percent, it is clear that President Obama just hasn’t lived up to his promises and his policies haven’t worked,” Romney said in a statement issued as he flew to Iowa. “We aren’t better off than they were four years ago. My plan for a stronger middle class will create 12 million new jobs by the end of my first term. America deserves new leadership that will get our economy moving again.”

On the morning after Obama’s closing speech at the Democratic National Convention, Romney said: “If last night was the party, this morning is the hangover.”

House Speaker John Boehner said the report “underscores President Obama’s failed promises to get our economy moving again.”

“The American people are still asking, ‘where are the jobs,’ ” the Ohio Republican said in a statement.

Obama campaign adviser Robert Gibbs was up early to pronounce that the Democratic gathering had achieved its goals. Speaking before the jobs numbers were released, the adviser said the president “understands we still have a long way to go” to strengthen the economy.

Gibbs acknowledged there’s a far different dynamic to this race than the excitement and novelty that were associated with Obama’s historic first race for the White House.

“This isn’t 2008, we understand that,” he said on “CBS This Morning.”

The November election could turn on whether voters see the economy as improving, remaining stagnant or getting worse under Obama.

Friday’s numbers gave both campaigns something to point to make their rival cases. Supporters of the president could hail the drop to 8.1 percent, suggesting it shows the economy is on the mend, if slowly. And Republicans are sure to focus on the raw job losses.

Either way, the numbers suggest that not much has happened over the past month to change the overall picture of a painfully slow recovery.

Romney and the Republicans argue that three years of unemployment above 8 percent and minimal economic growth are valid reasons to fire Obama after one term. The incumbent contends that, having inherited one of the worst economic crises in history, he needs more time to turn the nation around.

“I won’t pretend the path I’m offering is quick or easy. I never have,” Obama told Democrats at their convention Thursday night. “You didn’t elect me to tell you what you wanted to hear. You elected me to tell you the truth. And the truth is, it will take more than a few years for us to solve challenges that have built up over decades.”

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