President Barack Obama and Republican challenger Mitt Romney each claimed the mantle of change as a U.S. Labor Department report this morning showed job gains accelerating even as the unemployment rate ticked up.
The last employment report before the election showed employers hiring more workers in October than forecasters anticipated. Employers added a net 171,000 jobs after a 148,000 gain in September. The unemployment rate rose to 7.9 percent from 7.8 percent as more Americans began actively seeking jobs.
Obama, noting that private-sector firms hired the most employees in eight months, told a campaign rally in Hilliard, Ohio, that the country has “made real progress.”
Slideshow: The Battle for the Presidency ... of Ohio?
“The American auto industry is back on top, home values and construction is on the rise, we’re less dependent on foreign oil than any time in 20 years,” Obama said.
Romney said the jobless rate in October was higher than the 7.8 percent figure when Obama took office in January 2009.
“He said that the unemployment rate would now be 5.2 percent; today we learned that it is 7.9 percent,” Romney said in Milwaukee. “It is 9 million jobs short of what he promised.”
Christopher Wlezien, a political science professor at Temple University in Philadelphia and co-author of the book “The Timeline of Presidential Elections” said the jobs gains work in favor of the president. The unemployment rate has dropped a full percentage point over the past 12 months.
“I can’t see it hurting the president and I think it could help him on the campaign trail through the weekend and, most importantly, on Election Day itself,” he said.
Trying to recapture the theme of change that propelled Obama to office four years ago, the president told supporters today that Romney’s attempts to “massage the facts” on the auto industry bailout show that he’s not the change candidate.
“When you try to change the facts, just ’cause they’re inconvenient to your campaign, that’s definitely not change,” Obama said.
At three stops in Ohio today, Obama will emphasize his decision to bail out the industry, an issue that has given him an edge in the state, where one in eight jobs is auto-related. Romney opposed the government rescue.
He also addressed the controversy over a Romney ad that has prompted General Motors Co. (GM:US) and Chrysler Group LLC to wade into presidential politics and call the spot “inaccurate” and “misleading.” Obama’s campaign released an ad that says Romney’s move is “desperate.”
The 30-second Romney ad implies that Chrysler’s decision to expand production plants in China would come at the expense of jobs in Ohio. It shows cars being crushed as a narrator says Obama “sold Chrysler to Italians who are going to build Jeeps in China. Mitt Romney will fight for every American job.”
Chrysler has said the expansion won’t shift jobs from the U.S. Signs point to a lucrative Jeep market for the automaker in China. In May, Chinese dealers were able to charge the equivalent of $189,750 for a high-performance version of a U.S.- built Jeep Grand Cherokee that retails in its home market here for $54,470.
Obama said over the last few weeks workers at the Jeep plant have been calling their employers asking if it is true that jobs are being moved to China.
“You don’t scare hard-working Americans just to scare up some votes,” Obama said. “That’s not leadership.”
Romney also adopted the mantle of change agent as he offered his closing argument to voters this morning in Milwaukee. He laid out his case for defeating Obama in a prepared address and using a TelePrompter, a change from his standard off-the-cuff remarks.
“Do you want more of the same or do you want real change?” he asked a cheering crowd crammed into a warehouse.
He cast himself as a bipartisan negotiator who would be able to accomplish “big things” in Washington by working across the aisle.
The address marked an evolution for a candidate who once described himself as “severely conservative.” In the primary, Romney wooed the evangelical voters and anti-tax Tea Party activists that form the base of the Republican Party with hardline positions on immigration, taxes, and abortion.
Today, he promised to work with Democrats as well as Republicans to transform the country and assailed Obama for being unable to work effectively with Republicans in Congress. He warned that the country risks defaulting on its debt and chilling the economy, should Americans re-elect the president.
“He will still be unable to work with the people in Congress,” he said. “He has ignored them, attacked them, blamed them.”
With just four days left in the election, both candidates plan an aggressive schedule of events up to Election Day.
Later today, Romney will kick off the final weekend with running mate Paul Ryan, their wives, rock star Kid Rock, and dozens of other top Republican officials in Ohio.
He’ll campaign tomorrow in New Hampshire, Iowa, Colorado and Virginia and the next day in Pennsylvania.
After campaigning in Ohio all day today and part of tomorrow, Obama is moving to Wisconsin and Iowa. He will also be in New Hampshire, Florida and Colorado before Election Day -- and plans to stop in Ohio every day until Tuesday.
Ohio is one of nine states where the two candidates are concentrating their political fire in a final burst of campaigning to make their closing arguments to voters and look for a path to the 270 Electoral College votes needed to win.
Before today, Obama has been to Ohio seven times and held 10 political events since the Democratic National Convention ended in the first week of September. Romney has made 10 trips there, holding 33 events since the Republican convention at the end of August, according to figures provided by the campaign.
The bailout of the auto industry may be a key issue for voters there.
Unemployment, which peaked at 10.6 percent in Ohio in January 2010, fell to 7 percent in September 2012. Auto industry jobs have increased about 15 percent in Ohio since July 2009, when GM was emerging from bankruptcy, through September, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.
Still, auto-related employment remains lower than it was before the start of the recession, according to BLS data.
Along with today’s jobs report, Obama was buoyed by positive economic news yesterday when the Conference Board reported that consumer confidence rose to a four-year high and new unemployment claims fell.
The president also got a boost with an endorsement yesterday from New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg, who cited Obama’s stances on “issues that will help define our future,” including climate change, health care, education and gay rights.
Bloomberg, a political independent, is the founder and majority owner of Bloomberg LP.
An election campaign that has been the costliest in U.S. history also may be one of the closest.
A Washington Post/ABC News national tracking poll released yesterday showed the two men essentially tied, with 49 percent of likely voters supporting Obama and 48 percent Romney. The survey of 1,293 likely voters was conducted Oct. 28-31 and has an error margin of plus or minus three percentage points.
Obama continues to hold an edge in many of the battleground states. He leads Romney by six percentage points in Iowa among likely voters and is out front by smaller margins in New Hampshire and Wisconsin, according to an NBC News/Wall Street Journal/Marist College published yesterday. Obama led among likely voters in Colorado with 50 percent to Romney’s 48 percent, a CNN/ORC International poll released yesterday showed.
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