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On Obama’s ‘worst day,’ an opening for Romney

WASHINGTON - The announcement that the unemployment rate had risen slightly, along with a batch of other largely negative economic news, boosted Mitt Romney's presidential hopes and may have dealt President Obama the worst day so far in his reelection bid, analysts said Friday.

While the analysts cautioned that the dismal new jobs report and the rise in the unemployment rate from 8.1 percent to 8.2 percent might prove to be a blip in a trend line that had been slowly improving for months, it comes as many voters are forming opinions about the race and about Romney's qualifications to turn around the economy.


If historical trends are a guide, the numbers bode poorly for Obama unless things turn around by late summer. President Reagan was in office when the rate reached 10.8 percent, but by this time in Reagan's reelection bid, the rate had dropped to 7.4 percent, and he won reelection.

"There's not a whole lot of time left, that's the problem for the president,'' said Christopher Wlezien, a professor of political science at Temple University who has studied the effect of the economy on presidential elections. While he stressed that the numbers released Friday may not mean much "in isolation,'' the perception that the economy is plodding along, and maybe slowing, could be damaging unless the steady upswing resumes.

After a winter in which job gains seemed to be bolstering the president, the report that the US economy produced only 69,000 jobs in May - the poorest showing in a year - surprised most observers and caused fresh worries about a fragile economy. The economic outlook is further complicated by European political and economic strife.

Even more troubling than the unemployment rate for Obama could be this week's revision in the growth rate of the gross domestic product for the first quarter from 2.2 percent to 1.9 percent. A president seeking reelection has historically needed to head into the fall with a GDP growth rate over 3 percent to have a good chance at victory, according to professor Larry Sabato of the University of Virginia.


"This is Obama's worst day yet in the 2012 campaign,'' he said.

Even before the economic numbers were announced, Romney was rising in the polls. The latest Gallup Poll found the race in a statistical tie, with Romney leading by 46 percent to 45 percent. The survey said Obama had a favorability rate of 45 percent, within range of electability. The survey was released Friday and was conducted prior to the unemployment report.

"This will be perceived as bad news today,'' the Gallup Poll's director, Frank Newport, said of the unemployment rate. Newport said Obama's 45 percent favorability rating and other measures show that he still has time to recover. But he said that "if we still have bad news in July'' and the unemployment rate is not improving, that would not bode well for Obama.

The news caused a split screen of different interpretations, with Democrats pointing to job growth, however small, and Republicans calling the news "devastating,'' "pathetic,'' and "a sad new normal.''

Several hours after the jobs numbers were released, Romney appeared on CNBC in an interview that was so hastily arranged that it was delayed for more than an hour because the news trucks trying to get to Romney were stuck in traffic in Los Angeles.


"The president's policies, and his handling of the economy, has been dealt a harsh indictment this morning and it continues,'' Romney said, with a blue sign ''Putting Jobs First'' over his shoulder. "Their policies have not worked, and in many respects, their policies have made it harder for the economy to recover. I think that is one of the reasons why people are looking for a new direction.''

Romney's campaign also released a television ad Friday, the third of his general election campaign, saying that Romney would focus on the economy from the start.

But a CNN poll released Friday, which was taken before the jobs report was released, illustrated some of the problems that remain for Romney.

When asked who better understands the economy, Romney and Obama were tied at 45 percent apiece. But when asked who better understands the concerns of ordinary Americans, 55 percent said Obama while only 34 percent said Romney.

Obama's campaign in recent days has also tried to put a harsh spotlight on Romney's four-year term as Massachusetts governor as a way to strip away any notion that Romney would use his business background to create a better job climate.

Obama, speaking in Minnesota, said businesses had created 4.3 million jobs during in the last 27 months, while acknowledging that is not "as fast as we want . . . our economy is still facing some serious headwinds. We will come back stronger. We do have better days ahead.''


Obama used the speech to renew his call for businesses to hire more veterans. Later, at a fundraiser, Obama mentioned the difficult scenario he inherited.

Mark Zandi, chief economist at Moody's Analytics who in 2008 was an economic adviser for John McCain, said that while the economy had clearly slowed, the overall trends were still positive. The country is still gaining jobs, not losing them, he said, and American companies are on sound footing.

He predicted if the unemployment rate is at 8 percent or below, it will be a good scenario for Obama and other incumbents.

"Eight percent isn't good, obviously, and Governor Romney's correct that a well-functioning economy would not have an unemployment rate more than 6 percent,'' Zandi said. "But what matters more to voters is the trend lines. They take those numbers and they forecast. If they're improving they'll think, 'If we're not at 6 percent, we'll get there.' ''

Matt Viser can be reached at maviser@globe.com. Michael Kranish can be reached at kranish@globe.com.