Ten hours after President Barack Obama accepts the Democratic nomination for reelection, the Bureau of Labor Statistics will toss a stink bomb into his post-convention party.
The August jobs numbers are due out Friday morning, just as Obama will be seeking to capitalize on his convention momentum. The timing guarantees that Obama's post-Charlotte, N.C., campaign swing to New Hampshire, Iowa and Florida will battle for headlines with the barometer of economic recovery.
It will be a moment of reality for Obama, who has spent months on the campaign trail reminding swing-state voters that he inherited an economic mess. He's warned them that GOP nominee Mitt Romney and his running mate, Paul Ryan, share the tax-cutting ideas that Obama's predecessor, George W. Bush, held when the economy tanked. And he's invoked the job growth that resulted when former President Bill Clinton raised taxes on the wealthy.
The jobs report will immediately turn the focus away from the forward-looking message Democrats will push in Charlotte. For a day, at least, the successes the Obama campaign has touted on health care, reproductive rights, gay marriage and immigration will go by the wayside as the jobs numbers suck up the political oxygen.
One thing is clear: No matter how many jobs the nation created in August, Republicans will say it's not good enough, turning the political conversation back to Obama's stewardship of the economy rather than extending the friendlier territory he'll seek out this week.
Obama surely will respond to the jobs figures Friday at the start of a three-day trip campaign spokeswoman Jen Psaki said will focus on explaining the difference between his plan and Romney's.
"The president will head right back to the campaign trail after Charlotte to continue laying out for the American people the choice in this election and the difference between his vision for moving the country forward and the Romney-Ryan plan to take us backward," she said.
She added: "We have long said we want the economic recovery to move faster, and the president has laid out steps to make that happen, but without a plan for the middle class and a sole focus on extending tax cuts to millionaires and billionaires, the Romney-Ryan ticket doesn't have a lot to offer working families regardless of the jobs numbers."
But with Romney polling higher as a steward of the economy, selling Obama's economic competence is a tough challenge.
Take what happened a month ago: The July jobs figures beat expectations with 163,000 jobs created. But the unemployment rate ticked up from 8.2 percent to 8.3 percent. Romney used the latter figure to blast the report as "another hammer blow to the struggling middle-class families of America."
Republicans followed his lead, as they are certain to again this week. And with Ryan on board, the GOP ticket will have twice the opportunities to blame the president.
Romney spokesman Ryan Williams said the campaign will use the jobs numbers to remind voters of Obama's economic record, including the August 2011 jobs report, which counted zero new jobs.
"Barack Obama is the first president in modern history to preside over a net job loss, and we intend to highlight the failure of his economic policies during and after the convention," Williams said.
Expectations are the August numbers won't be much different than July's, said Mark Zandi, chief economist at Moody's Analytics. He predicted BLS will report August job growth was around 150,000 jobs.
"It's better than what we were getting in the spring, but it's not good enough to bring down unemployment in a consistent way," Zandi said. "The unemployment rate could dip back down to 8.2. It got rounded up to 8.3 [last month], so it's right on the bubble. ... I don't think its going to 8.4. The odds are it's going to be 8.3 or 8.2."
Obama's team will cite the 30 consecutive months of job growth and note that 150,000 new jobs is nothing to sneeze at. But Zandi said the slow recovery from the recession means far more jobs will need to be created before the unemployment rate drops.
"If the unemployment rate was 6 percent, that 150,000 would be considered fine," Zandi said. "Because we've dug ourselves a deep hole, the 150,000 is not good enough. It's not like the world's falling apart lousy; it's just not good enough given where we are."
Taylor Griffin, an economic adviser to John McCain's 2008 campaign, said "there doesn't seem to be any scenario" in which the unemployment rate falls below 8 percent before the November election. But Romney, Griffin said, won't automatically benefit from lousy jobs and unemployment figures -- he'll need to explain how he will do better.
"More important is that Romney articulate a distinct vision for how he would operate the economy, how he would run the country," Griffin said. "Romney's task between now and the election is to make a convincing argument that his business experience translates into the ability to run the country better than the president."
Former Ohio Gov. Ted Strickland, Obama's top surrogate in the state where he'll hold a Labor Day event today in Toledo, said Obama shouldn't allow Romney and the Republicans to be the only ones laying blame Friday morning.
Instead, Strickland is pushing for an aggressive effort to pin ownership of the lackluster recovery on Republicans such as Ryan, who have blocked Obama's jobs plans in Congress.
"His message has got to be, 'I need help in the Congress. So you should not only reelect me and Vice President Joe Biden, but you should give me a Congress that would be willing to work with me to try and increase economic growth in the country,'" Strickland said.
"I don't think the president should or needs to apologize for the actions of the Republican Congress," Strickland added. "I think he should lay the blame where it belongs. We would be in much better position if he had gotten cooperation with his jobs plan."
Tom Perriello, the former Virginia congressman who is president and CEO of the Center for American Progress Action Fund, dismissed the jobs report as less important than voters' confidence that things are getting better.
"Certainly, economic forecasters and pundits are going to look at these reports, but for most people, the economy at their kitchen table is more important than one month's job reports," Perriello said.
The likely 2013 candidate for Virginia governor said he expects swing-state voters will look to their local economies rather than the national numbers.
"Most Americans don't need to see a jobs report to know the state of the economy," he said. "That includes some real pain and some real life. If you're a voter in Michigan or Ohio that have been helped by seeing an increase in manufacturing, you know it. I think Americans are going to look at their own economic experience more than they're going to look at a national jobs report. I think voters are smart enough to see whose got a better plan."
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