Could Friday's jobs report ruin Obama's post-Sandy high?

With mere days remaining before the election, voters will get one last snapshot of the still-recovering economy

President Obama speaks in Green Bay, Wis., on Nov. 1
(Image credit: AP Photo/Tom Lynn)

It appears as if President Obama has reaped some political benefits from his handling of Hurricane Sandy, with a Washington Post/ABC News poll showing that nearly 80 percent of voters approve of the president's response. The disaster featured Obama touring devastated areas of New Jersey with Republican Gov. Chris Christie, the type of bipartisan cooperation that most voters say they want to see out of their elected officials. And Obama is hoping he can keep that bipartisan glow alive on the campaign trail. "When disaster strikes, we see America at its best," he told supporters at a rally in Wisconsin. "All the petty differences that consume us in normal times, all seem to melt away. There are no Democrats or Republicans during a storm — just fellow Americans."

However, Obama's post-Sandy high could evaporate by tomorrow morning, with the release of the monthly unemployment report. Indeed, the report could prove to be the deciding factor in the campaign, says Neil Irwin at The Washington Post:

There have been 45 monthly employment reports since Barack Obama was inaugurated president. Number 46 will be the biggest of them all...

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This close to Election Day, a surprisingly bad report would add potency to Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney’s arguments that President Obama’s economic policies are a failure. A surprisingly good report would give Obama and his allies evidence that the country is heading the right direction. Either way, the results will hang over the candidates’ closing arguments and dominate a news cycle when some voters might still be out there making their decisions.

The consensus estimate is that the economy added about 135,000 jobs in October — decent, but not great. By contrast, a new report from ADP shows that private companies created a better-than-expected 158,000 positions in October. Either way, voters probably shouldn't put too much stock in one report, says Bloomberg in an editorial:

Would you want a random-number generator to decide who will be the next U.S. president? Ludicrous as it sounds, something like that could occur Nov. 2, when the government releases its monthly jobs report...

It’s bizarre that the jobs numbers can wield so much influence, given that they often bear little relation to what’s actually happening in the economy. The fact is, it’s just plain difficult to measure in real time how many jobs the economy has produced in a month. When the Bureau of Labor Statistics estimates the change in nonfarm payrolls, for example, it is trying to pin down a tiny shift — a matter of thousands of jobs — in a labor pool of more than 130 million people. Even with a sample of about 141,000 employers, that’s a daunting task.

But no matter what happens, the Romney campaign should be eager to change the subject from Sandy. As Republican Haley Barbour, the former governor of Mississippi, tells Politico, "One thing is obvious — for a period of three days or more, nobody on the news media was reporting anything about the economy or job, spending, deficits or debts, and that's the Obama campaign's dream."

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