President Barack Obama and Republican challenger Mitt Romney each claimed the mantle of change as a Labor Department report this morning showed job gains accelerating even as the unemployment rate ticked up.
The last employment report before the election, released at 8:30 a.m., showed employers hiring more workers in October than forecasters anticipated. Payrolls grew by 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.
“The report looks like good economic news to me,” said Christopher Wlezien, a political science professor at Temple University in Philadelphia and co-author of the book “The Timeline of Presidential Elections.” He added, “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.”
Alan Krueger, chairman of the White House Council of Economic Advisers, said in a statement that the jobs figures provide “further evidence that the U.S. economy is continuing to heal from the wounds inflicted by the worst downturn since the Great Depression.”
Romney emphasized that the unemployment rate in October was higher than the 7.8 percent jobless rate when Obama took office in January 2009, saying in a statement that the report “is a sad reminder that the economy is at a virtual standstill.”
Advertising Battle • Ahead of the jobs report the two campaigns and their supporters engaged in an aggressive broadcast advertisement battle.
Romney’s campaign is running a Spanish-language ad in Florida, the biggest of the battleground states, claiming Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez and a niece of Fidel Castro support Obama. That ad features a clip of Chavez saying, if he could vote in this election, he would cast his ballot for Obama.
Priorities USA, the super-political action committee backing Obama, is running an ad that seeks to connect Florida Governor Rick Scott, co-founder and chief executive officer of a company that committed the largest Medicare fraud in U.S. history, to Romney’s previously reported role as a director of a company that defrauded Medicare. “Connect the dots,” the ad’s narrator says.
Florida 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 in the remaining days until Nov. 6. Over the next few days one or both candidates also will be in Ohio, Wisconsin, New Hampshire, Iowa, Colorado, Virginia, Nevada and Pennsylvania as they look for a path to the 270 Electoral College votes needed to win the White House.
The president 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.
In an opinion piece written by the mayor and published on Bloomberg View, he said devastation caused by Hurricane Sandy brought the stakes of the Nov. 6 election “into sharp relief.”
Vice President Joe Biden played a crucial role in securing the mayor’s endorsement, with a final phone call early this week to close the deal, according to a person familiar with the matter who asked for anonymity to discuss it.
Bloomberg, a political independent, is the founder and majority owner of Bloomberg LP.
Wisconsin, Ohio • Romney today plans stops in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, and Etna, Ohio. Obama is spending the day campaigning in Ohio, an indicator of the importance the state will play on Election Day. No Republican presidential candidate has won election without carrying Ohio.
Both candidates yesterday picked up the theme that Obama used in his 2008 campaign.
“This is a time for big change, for real change,” Romney said, as he addressed supporters in Roanoke, one of three stops he made yesterday in Virginia. “I’m going to make real changes.”
Obama, during stops in Wisconsin, Nevada and Colorado, countered that the former Massachusetts governor wants to return to policies of former President George W. Bush’s administration and accused Romney of switching positions on issues to get elected.
“My opponent can talk about change, but I know what real change looks like,” Obama told a crowd in North Las Vegas. “I’ve fought for it. I’ve got the scars to prove it.”
Economy Focus • After days of news dominated by the wreckage caused by Atlantic superstorm Sandy and a final debate focused on foreign policy, both men zeroed in on the economy, which remains the central issue for most voters.
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.
Obama also is getting positive reviews for the federal response to the storm, which cut a path of death and destruction along the East Coast. New Jersey Governor Chris Christie, a frequent Romney surrogate who delivered the keynote address at the Republican National Convention, has repeatedly praised Obama for his attention to the stricken area.
On the Offensive • While Romney refrained from direct attacks on Obama in the immediate aftermath of the storm, both candidates went back on the offensive yesterday.
Romney, 65, said Obama’s policies will keep job growth slow and incomes stagnant.
“He has a campaign slogan which is forward,” Romney said. “I think forewarned is a better word.”
Obama, 51, sought to recognize voter unease over the economy while also trying to drive home his campaign message that Romney has shifted on major issues. “You may not agree with every decision I’ve made; you may be frustrated at the pace of change, but you know what I believe, you know where I stand,” he said in Green Bay, Wisconsin.
Obama yesterday dropped the sarcastic attack lines that were part of his stump speech in recent weeks, including a reference to his opponent’s changes in position as “Romnesia.” He kept his focus on policy differences, mentioning Romney by name once in Wisconsin and Nevada and twice in Colorado.
“Their bet is on cynicism, but Nevada my bet is on you,” Obama said in North Las Vegas, repeating a line he introduced earlier in Wisconsin. 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 with 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.
Yet 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.
Campaign Schedule • 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.
Romney tomorrow will campaign in New Hamphire, Iowa, Colorado and Virginia. He will stop in Pennsylvania on Nov. 4, a day after running-mate Paul Ryan is scheduled to be in the state. With polls showing Ohio moving toward Obama, Romney’s team is searching for other paths to get to 270 electoral votes by plunging into Pennsylvania and other traditionally Democratic-leaning states.
At all three Ohio stops today, Obama will emphasize his decision to bail out the U.S. auto industry, an issue that has given him an edge in the state where 1 in 8 jobs is auto related.
He will also, for the first time, address the controversy over a Romney ad that has prompted General Motors Co. 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.
--With assistance from Lisa Lerer in Milwaukee, Wisconsin,, Jonathan D. Salant, Hans Nichols and Mike Dorning in Washington and John McCormick in Chicago.