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Analysis: If bad job news persists, advantage shifts to Romney

June 01, 2012|By Paul West
  • President Obama speaks at the TPI Composites Factory, a manufacturer of wind turbine blades on May 24 in Newton, Iowa. Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney speaks at the Solyndra manufacturing facility on Thursday in Fremont, Calif.
President Obama speaks at the TPI Composites Factory, a manufacturer of… (Charlie Neibergall / P Photo;…)

Another month or two of downbeat jobs reports like Friday's, and the 2012 electoral advantage will shift to Mitt Romney.

At the moment, the election is still a coin flip.  But even before the latest evidence of slowing job growth, President Obama was no better than a 50-50 pick to win reelection (as noted Democratic pollster Peter Hart put it recently).  And with economic storm clouds building, it’s easy to imagine that Obama could be the underdog before too long.

“If the May report is a harbinger of what's coming, Romney’s message that ‘We can do better, but Obama can't’ will really resonate,” said Bill Galston of the Brookings Institution, a White House advisor in the Clinton administration.

The latest blow to Obama’s prospects – and the corresponding lift to Romney’s — illustrate the teeter-totter nature of a tight election contest in an evenly divided nation.

The Republican challenger, careful not to celebrate his good fortune at the expense of millions of jobless Americans, issued a statement from his Boston headquarters that termed the latest jobs report “devastating” for U.S. families.

“It is now clear to everyone that President Obama’s policies have failed to achieve their goals and that the Obama economy is crushing America’s middle class. The president's reelection slogan may be ‘forward,’ but it seems like we've been moving backward,” Romney said.

A top White House economic advisor acknowledged that more  needs to be done to recover from the worst economic downturn since the Depression of the 1930s.

“It is important not to read too much into any one monthly report and it is helpful to consider each report in the context of other data,” said Alan B. Krueger, chairman of the president’s Council of Economic Advisors.

But a White House chart that accompanied Krueger’s statement makes a slightly different point: Those sluggish jobs reports are starting to pile up — and are pointing in a troublesome direction.

Since January, the trend line has been downward in what is now the longest string of month-over-month declines in private-sector job growth since Obama took office.

(Source: The White House; President’s Council of Economic Advisors, June 1, 2012)

That’s no random chart, either. The White House has viewed it as a selling point, and has distributed it widely. The president’s campaign hands it out at political events around the country. It’s also featured prominently on Obama’s campaign website, as evidence that the president is “putting America back to work.”

At this point, though, what once looked like a good news tale -- for the nation as a whole and for Obama, politically -- has veered off into uh-oh territory.

Obama’s ability to persuade voters that he’s done enough to turn the economy around will likely decide the 2012 election. But as the latest statistics make increasingly clear, time is running out for him to make that argument.

paul.west@latimes.com

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