MANCHESTER, N.H. — Casting President Barack Obama as a failure who has tanked the United States' economy, Republican White House hopeful Mitt Romney seized on Friday's jobs report as he pitched himself as an alternative with the experience to turn around the struggling economy.
"Three years into his term, we have more news that unemployment has ticked up again," Romney said at a town hall-style meeting, a day after he formally joined the GOP presidential contest.
Employers hired 54,000 new workers in May, the fewest in eight months, and the unemployment rate rose to 9.1 percent. The Labor Department report offered startling evidence that the U.S. economy is slowing, hampered by high gas prices and natural disasters in Japan that have hurt U.S. manufacturers.
Romney's expected rivals also used the jobs numbers to make the case of why they should replace Obama in early 2013.
"Today's underwhelming job numbers report demonstrates President Obama's failure to address the tough challenges we face as a nation," former Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty said in a statement. "We need a leader to stand up and make the difficult choices essential to spur economic growth and create new jobs."
Former House Speaker Newt Gingrich, who has been dogged in recent weeks by the disclosure he owed — and has since paid — luxury jeweler Tiffany's as much as $500,000, said the job numbers should refocus the campaign on voters' pocketbooks.
"America cannot wait, we must take immediate steps to put America back on the path of economic growth and job creation," Gingrich said in a statement.
Former Utah Gov. Jon Huntsman, still weighing a presidential bid as he visited this early nominating state, tried to use the jobs report as a reason voters should look at his record.
"As governor of Utah — while our country faded into recession — we created an environment that brought jobs to the state without resorting to out of control spending and debt," Huntsman said in a statement. "It is time for America to do the same, putting an end to the suffering of millions of Americans who are struggling to find economic opportunity."
And former Sen. Rick Santorum, who was set to formally join the race in his native Pennsylvania on Monday, said the report was the result of Obama's Washington-first policies.
"This morning's disappointing jobs report is just another stark reminder of this administration's failure to believe in the American people and their entrepreneurial spirit," he said in a statement.