A bleak monthly U.S. jobs report poured cold water on President Barack Obama's hopes for a post-convention bounce on Friday, putting him on the defensive as he entered the final two-month sprint to the Nov. 6 election.
Just hours after basking in the glow of his supporters' adulation on Thursday night at the Democratic convention in Charlotte, North Carolina, Obama was hit by a stark reminder of the challenge he faces convincing voters to give him a second term despite stubbornly high unemployment on his watch.
Jobs growth slowed more than expected in August, with nonfarm payrolls increasing only 96,000, the Labor Department said. While the jobless rate dropped to 8.1% from 8.3%, it was bad news for the economy because the decline was largely due to more Americans giving up the search for work.
The grim report was likely to dim the convention afterglow for Obama, who in an impassioned speech accepting his party's nomination had appealed to Americans for more time and patience to finish his economic agenda.
His Republican challenger, Mitt Romney, seized on the latest jobs data to slam Obama's handling of the economy, voters' top concern.
"If last night was the party, this morning is the hangover," Romney said in a statement. "It is clear that President Obama just hasn't lived up to his promises and his policies haven't worked. We aren't better off than they were four years ago."
White House economist Alan Krueger chose to accentuate the positive: the private sector has now generated jobs for 30 straight months. And he made the point that Congress had failed to pass key elements of Obama's jobs plan, which has been blocked by Republicans who control the House of Representatives.
Obama's nationally televised acceptance speech capped two weeks of back-to-back nominating conventions for Obama and Romney.
The address opened the last phase of a White House battle that polls show is essentially deadlocked amid deep voter concerns about the economy, which Obama argued he had put on the road to recovery even though growth remained lackluster.
Obama offered a steady-as-you-go message that outlined priorities like creating 1 million new manufacturing jobs but provide few details on how to achieve them. He thrilled the crowd when he ended with a preacher-like crescendo. Pundits' reviews were not as glowing as for an address to the convention by former President Bill Clinton on Wednesday.
BACK TO CAMPAIGN TRAIL
Both candidates were hitting the campaign trail on the morning of the release of the August labor market report, a crucial economic indicator that both camps were watching in a campaign dominated by the debate over job creation.
The latest jobs data could give a boost to Romney, the former head of a private equity firm who has made his business experience the centerpiece of his campaign. He argues he is uniquely qualified to create job growth and says Obama is not up to the job.
Obama, who entered office during the darkest days of the 2007-2009 recession, has brought unemployment down from a peak of 10% in his first year but has been unable to crack the 8% barrier - a fact that Romney's camp has stressed.
The unemployment data also raises doubts whether Obama will get the kind of benefits that nominees traditionally get from their conventions. A Reuters/Ipsos online poll on Thursday, before his speech, found Romney had a narrow lead of 45% to Obama's 44% among likely voters.
Polls show the economy is the top issue for voters, and Obama addressed their anxieties in his acceptance speech.
"You elected me to tell you the truth, and the truth is, it will take more than a few years for us to solve challenges that have built up over decades," he said.
"But know this, America: Our problems can be solved. Our challenges can be met. The path we offer may be harder, but it leads to a better place."
Republicans were unimpressed. "Americans will hold President Obama accountable for his record - they know they're not better off and that it's time to change direction," Romney campaign manager Matt Rhoades said in a statement.
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