Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Bleak jobless rate hijacks election trail

Obama asks for more time, rebuffs digs from Romney

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PORTSMOUTH, N.H. -- U.S. President Barack Obama set off Friday on the final two months of a brutal climb toward the Nov. 6 election as the country woke up to grim unemployment numbers and Republican challenger Mitt Romney declared, "We're going in the wrong direction."

The night before, Obama accepted his party's nomination and warned voters if they turn away from his message of hope and hard work, "you buy into the cynicism that the change we fought for isn't possible."

Friday's campaigning was dominated by a new Labor Department report showing U.S. employers added just 96,000 jobs last month, failing to meet expectations. The unemployment rate fell to 8.1 per cent from 8.3 per cent in July, but only because more people gave up looking for work.

"That's not good enough. We know it's not good enough," Obama told an audience in New Hampshire a few hours after the report's release. He said Republicans haven't offered specifics on how they would improve the economy because "they know their plan won't sell."

Romney said Obama's actions over the past few years give no confidence that can create jobs. "If last night was the party," Romney said in a statement, "this morning is the hangover."

With the race for the White House about dead even with two months before the election, each side accuses the other of not saying what they would do to improve the economy. The economy was bleeding hundreds of thousands of jobs per month when Obama took office, but that does not comfort the jobless today.

The government will issue two more monthly jobs reports before the election, including one on Nov. 2 -- four days before Election Day.

Obama campaign spokesman Ben LaBolt tried to shift the focus from Friday's new unemployment numbers to what he said were failings in Romney's economic plans presented at the Republican convention last week. "Mitt Romney didn't offer one idea that would create good-paying, sustainable jobs for the middle class," LaBolt said in a statement.

Obama contends that, having inherited one of the worst economic crises in history from former president George W. Bush, he needs more time to turn the nation around.

"America, I never said this journey would be easy, and I won't promise that now," he said Thursday night. "Yes, our path is harder-- but it leads to a better place. Yes our road is longer-- but we travel it together. We don't turn back. We leave no one behind."

For the candidates, the next 60 days promise a high-stakes mix of October debates and multiple appearances in a small number of battleground states. The president it not chosen by the popular vote but in state-by-state contests, forcing an intense focus on states that do not reliably vote Republican or Democratic.

Polls show more voters think Romney's record as a successful businessman makes him the best candidate to solve the economic difficulties. The polls also show Obama is ahead on the question of which candidate voters most like and see as attuned to the needs of average Americans.

Fewer than 10 per cent of voters are undecided.

As Obama closes out his first term, the recovery from the Great Recession remains modest at best and the country has endured the longest stretch of unemployment above eight per cent since the Great Depression of the 1930s.

Romney will continue hammering Obama on that record, arguing Obama has squandered his first term and must be turned out of office.

Obama counters that the American people have joined him in legislative and policy triumphs and don't want to lose that progress in the overhaul of the health-care system, changes in immigration policy and an end to the ban on gays serving openly in the military. "We are not going back, we are moving forward, America," Obama said.


-- The Associated Press

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition September 8, 2012 A26

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