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Bad jobs numbers leave Obama battling history for re-election

By Stephen Collinson

PITTSBURGH, Pennsylvania -- A fading recovery and weak jobs growth mean U.S. President Barack Obama must defy history to win re-election, while Republican Mitt Romney has a fresh chance to market his candidacy.

An economic dip has come at just the wrong time for Obama, just four months before he asks Americans already doubtful over his economic management for a second White House term.

Dreary government jobs data published Friday played right into Romney's hands as he argues that Obama's presidency is a bust, and that he should get the chance to nurse the economy back to health.

No president in more than 70 years has won re-election with the unemployment rate at higher than 7.4 percent. Barring a miracle, that milestone is now out of reach for Obama.

An anemic 80,000 added jobs were all the economy could manage in June, leaving the unemployment rate stubbornly stuck at 8.2 percent, according to Labor Department statistics.

After a power surge at the beginning of the year, the economy, amid slowing growth, is now heading back to the doldrums, having created an average of only around 75,000 jobs over the last three months.

Monthly numbers would have to consistently hit over 160,000 jobs to bring down the unemployment rate: so Obama may even face voters with the top line figure above 8 percent.

And with only four monthly jobs reports until the election, time is running out and without an improvement in jobs growth, Obama will come under more and more political pressure each month.

Despite Obama's economic travails, the race has appeared almost frozen in recent months, with the president leading by a few points in national polls and faring better than Romney on the state-by-state political map.

The Supreme Court's validation of his health law and his advantage among crucial Hispanic voters have also boosted Obama's hopes and there are signs his assault on Romney's business record is damaging the Republican.

But Dr. Paul Harrington of the Center For Labor Markets and Policy at Drexel University wonders whether Obama can defy political gravity much longer.

“Given the deteriorating jobs (data) and the likelihood we are going to have a poor second quarter in terms of GDP growth, you have to believe this is going to have a substantial impact on how voters turn out and vote in November,” Harrington said.

Obama admitted after the jobs numbers were released that “it's tough out there” and sought to broaden the debate from one simply about his economic performance, touting a vision to better the lot of the entire middle class.

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 Once a thriving Gold Rush town, bankrupt California city provides a cautionary tale 
U.S. President Barack Obama speaks at Dobbins Elementary School in Poland, Ohio on Friday, July 6. A fading recovery and weak jobs growth data released Friday mean Obama must defy history to win re-election, while Republican Mitt Romney has a fresh chance to market his candidacy. (AP)

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