FAIRFAX, Va. (AP) – Mitt Romney was still celebrating his widely praised debate performance when the campaign lurched in a different direction.
Unemployment dropped last month to the lowest level since 2009, and suddenly it was President Barack Obama’s turn to smile.
In a race dominated by the weak economy, Obama said Friday the creation of 114,000 jobs in September, coupled with a drop in unemployment to 7.8 percent, was “a reminder that this country has come too far to turn back now.” Jabbing at his rival’s plans, he declared, “We’ve made too much progress to return to the policies that caused this crisis in the first place.”
But Romney saw little to like in the day’s new government numbers.
“This is not what a real recovery looks like,” the former Massachusetts governor and businessman said, an analysis echoed by other Republicans throughout the day. “We created fewer jobs in September than in August, and fewer jobs in August than in July, and we’ve lost over 600,000 manufacturing jobs since President Obama took office,” Romney added.
“If not for all the people who have simply dropped out of the labor force, the real unemployment rate would be closer to 11 percent,” he said.
Both campaigns kept up a television advertising war with a price tag approaching $750 million when outside group spending is included.
Romney launched three new commercials during the day.
The jobs report was the main flashpoint of the day, and Obama scolded Republicans for their reaction.
“Today’s news certainly is not an excuse to try to talk down the economy to score a few political points,” he said as Romney and most GOP lawmakers emphasized portions of the report other than the drop in the unemployment rate to the same level as when the president took office.
Republicans made it clear they wanted to keep the focus on Wednesday night’s debate, when Romney appeared confident as he pitched his case for a new approach to the economy and Obama turned in a performance that even some Democrats conceded was subpar.
“I enjoyed that debate a couple nights ago. That was a great experience,” Romney told a crowd of more than 5,000 in St. Petersburg, Fla. Friday night, declining to cite the new jobs report.
In a weekly “Weekend Messaging Memo” distributed by the Republican National Committee, communications director Sean Spicer devoted 650 words to a recap of the debate – and made no mention of the drop in unemployment.