It's not that the economy is perfect. It's just that the president needs more time to fix the mess he inherited.
That's been the dominant message that administration officials and people close to President Obama delivered on-the-ground this week in Charlotte, in an attempt to shift the focus of the campaign away from potentially weak or modest economic indicators like Friday's job numbers.
Now, the Democrats' economic message hinges on voters taking a broader, longer view of job creation, productivity, and consumer confidence: a sentiment that first lady Michelle Obama spelled out in her speech on Tuesday.
Obama "reminds me that we are playing a long game here and that change is hard, and change is slow, and it never happens all at once," she told the audience at the convention arena.
Illinois Sen. Dick Durbin echoed the idea of this long-term strategy on Thursday morning. "We've had dramatic improvement in so many different areas, but it's not where we want to be. We want to be where Bill Clinton ended up with 23 million new jobs, expanding and growing economy," he said. "We need more time to do it. That hole is a lot deeper than any of us imagined."
Portraying the economic recovery as a race better suited for a tortoise rather than a hare offers political upsides for the campaign. It attempts to shift the focus off of the unemployment data coming out 60 days before the election: a data point that Republicans such as Newt Gingrich warned could overshadow any bounce following the convention.
The Democrats tried to downplay the Friday jobs report throughout the week. Former Chairman of the Council of Economic Advisers, Austan Goolsbee, called the jobs numbers "highly variable," give or take 100,000 jobs. "Never take one month's number being anything," he said.
White House Communications Director Dan Pfeiffer tag-teamed Goolsbee's statement, by dismissing a single data point as a make-or-break point for the election. Instead, Pfeiffer said that voters judged the state of the economy on the health of their own pocketbooks. "To the average person, the economy is a very personal decision--if they have a job, if they feel secure in their job," he said.
Economists surveyed by Bloomberg predicted the Labor Department report would show a modest increase in payrolls of 125,000 in September after a gain of 163,000. The unemployment rate was expected to remain unchanged at 8.3 percent. Such figures would underscore that the economy is still not firing on all cylinders and that the jobs market remains a major concern.
But, the issue isn't just the type of headlines that Friday's job numbers will generate, regardless of whether they're great or terrible. Instead, the job numbers are a reminder for the American public in an era of hyper-partisan spin. The Bureau of Labor Statistics' latest report will show the number of people unemployed for six months or more--and that many demographic groups like African-Americans, blue collar men, and teenagers have disproportionately borne the brunt of the recession.
These are not just numbers but reflections of the way people view their future economic security. That may be why the campaign tweaked their message this week to cast the recovery as a long, hard slog, one that Obama wants to continue to chip away at, rather hyping a series of successes like the auto bailout or the stimulus. It makes the argument easier to swallow.
Most likely, President Obama will tell Americans tonight and in the coming days that he needs more time to properly right the economy and that changing midstream is a bad idea. That's the inverse of Romney's argument that America needs a new leader to reinvigorate the lackluster economy.
That is, after all, the secret sauce of the campaign: the ability to convince voters that one, single man is up to the job of fixing the U.S. jobs crisis that's lasted for a few years now.
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