One could hardly blame President Obama for doing a bit of crowing Friday when he spoke to a rain-soaked crowd of several thousand at Cleveland State University.
He had just learned, as had the rest of the nation, that the Bureau of Labor Statistics had new numbers showing the national unemployment rate had dropped from 8.1 percent in August to 7.8 percent in September – the lowest jobless rate since January 2009, the month he took office.
“Our businesses have now added 5.2 million new jobs over the past two-and-a-half years,’’ Obama told the Cleveland State crowd. “More Americans are entering the work force. More people are getting jobs.”
It was only an increase of 114,000 jobs, but it did mark the 31st straight month in which private sector jobs had been added to the economy.
He was speaking in Ohio, a Great Lakes “Rust Belt” state where unemployment has been running nearly a full percentage point behind the national number for quite some time now.
That, of course, has set off a great debate about who is responsible for uptick in Ohio’s economy – the policies of the Obama administration – specifically the stimulus package and the auto industry bailout – or the no-new-taxes budget-cutting and economic development actions of the Republican governor, John Kasich.
Kasich rarely misses an opportunity to take credit for Ohio’s “turnaround,” much to the chagrin of the campaign of Republican Mitt Romney, who is trying desperately to win this key battleground state by telling folks how bad things are.
Makes for some awkward moments in Republican land.
But translating the improved jobs number released Friday into a Democratic win in Ohio is no slam dunk for the president.
It took only minutes after the new numbers came out Friday for the GOP message machine to come out with their spin on the news of the day – that a 7.8 percent unemployment rate is unacceptable and that it by no means represents a “real recovery.”
West Chester’s John Boehner, the Republican speaker of the House, was one of the first out of the box.
“While there is positive news in today’s report, job creation is far too slow and the unemployment rate is far too high,’’ Boehner said in a written statement.
Boehner said that Obama administration officials had said, in 2009, that “unemployment would be as low as 5.6 percent by now if Congress passed their ‘stimulus’ spending bill – instead, after four years of taxing, spending and red tape, millions of Americans remain jobless, underemployed or have simply given up looking for work.”
Ohio’s junior senator, Rob Portman of Terrace Park, weighed in as well.
“Unfortunately, we continue to see a low workforce participation rate, meaning that for every job created over the past four years, six people have left the workforce,’’ Portman said.
Romney’s statement on the new jobs report said “this is not what a real recovery looks like. We created fewer jobs in September than in August and fewer jobs in August than in July.” And he reminded voters that “23 million Americans are still struggling for work.”
The Democrats started fighting back.
In January 2009, the month Barack Obama raised his right hand and took the oath of office, the nation lost 800,000 jobs. He can hardly be blamed for that, they say. And now, there have been 31 months of job growth.
“We have come a long way,’’ Melanie Roussell, a spokeswoman for the Democratic National Committee told WVXU Friday. “Too far to allow Mitt Romney take us back to the failed policies of the past.”
The nation’s economic crisis, Roussell said, “didn’t happen overnight.”
“We must do more; and President Obama has a plan to do it,’’ Roussell said. Ohio, she said, “was one of the hardest hit states, and we have seen the unemployment numbers go down.”
The polling now shows the presidential race in Ohio a dead heat. It is likely to remain that way, right up to Nov. 6.
And there will be only one issue that matters.
The late Jim Rhodes, the crusty southeast Ohio politician who was elected governor four times, had a knack for reducing politics to its simplest terms.
Rhodes, when he would be asked what the most important issues were in a campaign, had a simple answer.
Three things: “Jobs, jobs and jobs.”