The release of the monthly jobs number Friday offered two possibilities: Added jobs would be around the predicted 158,000 and President Barack Obama could breathe a little easier; or the figure of added jobs would be lower and Mitt Romney could attack.
With the release of the official number — 69,000 jobs and a 0.1 percent uptick in unemployment — the ball has moved to Romney's court.
"Mitt Romney now has a good chance of being the next president," John Cassidy wrote at The New Yorker. "How good is good? Your guess is worth as much as mine, but we both know that the likelihood of a Romney victory went up considerably this morning with the release of a shockingly bad jobs report."
"Why is this presidential race close? And why might it get closer?" MSNBC echoed in its First Thoughts. "Look no further than today's jobs report for May, which is a gut-punch for Team Obama."
In a FiveThirtyEight post, Nate Silver suggested that any jobs reports that came in at under 150,000 jobs could put President Obama on a trajectory toward defeat, with some caveats.
"The current forecast for labor growth points toward an extremely close election — one in which every job above or below that 150,000 threshold could be critical," Silver wrote.
The jobs data keeps the focus on the president's performance and record, Stu Rothenberg of the Rothenberg Political Report in Washington told Bloomberg Businessweek.
"It simply makes it harder for the president to say it's not about me and it's about a choice between two men," he said. "It's much easier for Romney to say, 'Now, wait a minute, is he doing a good job?'"
The current 8.2 percent unemployment rate was the first rise since June, and the 69,000 jobs added in May were the fewest added in a year. The number was about half of what is needed to keep up with population growth. The April jobs numbers were also revised from 115,000 to 77,000, and the March numbers were lowered from 153,000 to 143,000. The stall in growth has economists warning about the possibility of a second recession.
"Consider this: Last year, the U.S. grew at just a 1.7 percent pace," James Pethokoukis wrote at The American. "Research from the Federal Reserve finds that since 1947 when year-over-year real GDP growth falls below 2 percent, recession follows within a year 70 percent of the time. We are firmly within the Recession Red Zone."
"The May jobs report indicates growth could be even slower in the second quarter, and the economy is dangerously close to stalling and falling into a recession," University of Maryland economist Peter Morici said.
"Already it's bad. If you get another bad number next month, it's fire and brimstones," said Dan Greenhaus, chief global strategist at BTIG.
The Romney campaign greeted the jobs number with a new ad slamming the president for solar panel company Solyndra's failure, but the ad also addressed the larger issue of free enterprise.
"I'm afraid the reason that the stimulus has been unsuccessful, that the turnaround has taken so long to occur, that the recovery has been so tepid, is that the president fails to understand the basic nature of free enterprise in America," Romney said in the ad.
Romney also quickly changed places with adviser Vin Weber, who was scheduled to appear on CNBC, in order to discuss the new number. The blame for the jobs data, Romney said, rests squarely on Obama.
"The president is always quick to find someone to blame," Romney said. "First it was George Bush, then Congress, ATM machines, then it was Europe. The truth is it's the job of the president to get people back to work ... . These numbers are devastating."
In another new ad titled, "A Better Day," Romney promises to focus on the economy and the deficit from day one, to unleash energy resources and to stand up to China on trade.
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