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Jobs report has something for both Obama and Romney

Friday's jobs report had some good news for Obama to trumpet, in the number of jobs created, but the rise in the unemployment rate gave ammunition for Romney as well.

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This photo taken Aug. 2 shows President Obama greeting people outside Lechonera El Barrio, a local restaurant in Orlando, Fla. Friday's jobs report had some good news for Obama to trumpet, in the number of jobs created in July.

Pablo Martinez Monsivais/AP

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With higher-than-expected job creation in July, President Obama avoided a major blow in Friday’s unemployment report. But the rise in the jobless rate to 8.3 percent, up from 8.2 percent, mitigated the positive news – and handed campaign fodder to Republican challenger Mitt Romney.

Voters focus on the unemployment rate more than any other economic indicator, and the slight uptick feeds the narrative that the tepid economic recovery is losing altitude – a drag on Mr. Obama’s reelection prospects three months before Election Day.

Polls show the public still assigns much of the blame for the nation’s economic woes to former President George W. Bush, who left office in January 2009 amid an economic crisis. But with each passing month, Obama owns the economy, and he could pay the price for that in November.  No president has been reelected with unemployment over 7.4 percent since the Great Depression.

“The job creation number is a little positive news that President Obama can maybe boast about,” says Julian Zelizer, a professor of history and public affairs at Princeton University in New Jersey. “But when the unemployment rate goes up, that’s the headline.”

Even with unemployment at or above 8 percent for 42 consecutive months, Obama has held onto a slight advantage against Mr. Romney. The Real Clear Politics average of major polls show Obama leading by 2.7 percent points nationally and ahead by a higher margin in key swing states.

The Department of Labor’s employment report for July showed overall growth of 163,000 jobs in the nonfarm private-sector. Analysts had predicted growth of fewer than 100,000 jobs.

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