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Zombie economy threatens Obama

That’s the headline on Politico today. It’s a bit Obama-centric, but has a nice ring. So I stole it.

President Obama, of course, is spinning the June jobs report, even though it capped the worst quarter for job creation in two years:

We learned this morning that our business created 84,000 new jobs last month and that overall means that businesses have created 4.4 million new jobs over the past 28 months including 500,000 new manufacturing jobs. That’s a step in the right direction. . . .

But Politico reporters Ben White and Alexander Burns aren’t buying it:

The dismal June jobs report immediately yanked the focus of the presidential campaign back to the economy — and the reality that President Barack Obama’s hopes for a second term depend on overcoming an idling economy and a jobless rate that have proven fatal for incumbents.

No president since World War II has won re-election with a jobless rate over 7.4 percent, a figure the economy is now almost certain not to reach before November. The president is quickly running out of time to bring the jobless rate down with just four reports now remaining before the election. And Friday’s report took on added importance as it will help set impressions of the economic trend heading into the summer vacation season, when voters tend to tune out.

Voters also tend to judge a president on recent trends in the economy rather than the incumbent’s performance over four years. So while Obama continues to argue, correctly, that the economy has added over 4 million jobs on his watch and the jobless rate has dropped from an October, 2009 high of 10 percent, it may not matter very much.

Obama’s approval rating on the economy—consistently rated the top issue for voters— has long been mired in dismal territory. Friday’s numbers are likely to freeze the current dynamic that doesn’t favor the White House

In the absence of decent economic news, Obama must continue to rely on attacking Mitt Romney as an uber-rich jobs slasher who keeps his money overseas. The president seems to have gained a bit of mileage from this line of attack. But White and Burns question whether, in the final analysis, it will be enough:

[The attacks] may have reduced impact as the Romney campaign and its supporters in deep-pocketed outside groups unleash what is expected to be an historic barrage of advertising fueled by hundreds of millions of dollars ripping the president’s stewardship of the economy and defending Romney’s private sector record. . . .

The weak jobs figure should also help wash away a tough news cycle for Romney and refocus the campaign on much friendly terrain for the Republican challenger, who has based bid for the White House almost exclusively on the argument that he would create faster economic growth and pull the United States out of its current funk.

Even before the release of today’s numbers, Americas held a dim view of Obama’s economic stewardship:

A June NBC News/Wall Street Journal poll found just 42 percent of voters approved of Obama’s economic leadership, compared with 53 percent who disapproved. The disapproval number has not dropped below 50 percent since February of 2011. The ABC News/Washington Post poll painted a similar picture in May: 42 percent of voters approved of Obama on the economy and 55 percent disapproved

As one analyst put it, “Americans can take some economic pain but they do not like driving sideways which is what we appear to be doing now. They like a robust economy. We don’t have one.”

The one saving grace for Obama may reside in the fact that the employment picture is better in certain key swing states, especially Ohio, than it is for the nation as a whole. But even in Ohio, the economy is far from “robust.” The unemployment rate there, as of May, was 7.3.

Accordingly, Obama better hope that the next two or three monthly employment reports contain better news than today’s did. But there doesn’t seem to be much reason to believe they will.

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