By John Barron
If Barack Obama’s chances of keeping his job are tied to the number of Americans who are finding a employment of their own, the president and America’s job-seekers both just got some very good news.
Unemployment in the United States fell to 7.8 per cent in September, with 114,000 jobs added — the lowest jobless rate since the month Obama took the oath of office in January 2009.
It is still well above the highest level that any president since World War Two has been re-elected with — Ronald Reagan won a landslide second term in 1984 despite a jobless rate of 7.4 per cent.
But importantly for President Reagan 28 years ago, and for President Obama today, the number is heading down. Psychologically, it seems, voters are compelled by feelings that "things are getting better".
The good economic news followed a bad 36 hours for the President, after he had his debating clock cleaned in Denver by the surprisingly feisty Republican challenger Mitt Romney.
Had the jobless rate stalled at 8.1 per cent or even ticked up again, the one-two blow might have been enough to build some much-needed momentum for Mr. Romney, but that’s now unlikely.
Now the former Massachusetts governor is only left to say these numbers "aren’t good enough" rather than not being good as such.
The next major moment for this election comes next Thursday, US time, when the Vice President Joe Biden will face the conservative pin-up boy Congressman Paul Ryan.
A week later Mr. Obama and Mr. Romney have their second debate — one that could effectively settle the matter — and the president probably likes his chances of making a comeback. President Reagan had a shocker in his first debate against Walter Mondale in 1984, looking old, confused, and tired, but came back strongly to win the second and the election.
This year’s second debate is a town hall style event, with questions on domestic and foreign affairs from ordinary voters. The format should favour the President: a free-flowing give-and-take, where the candidates are freed from their podiums and the answers aren’t known in advance.
Mitt Romney’s robotic shuffling walk alone could be enough to make him look more like Robo-boss than a President who feels the people’s pain. Obama can do folksy and he loves a crowd he can ad-lib off — something Romney, for all his debate prep, often fails to do.
But while many argue debates don’t win or lose presidential elections, kitchen table issues like unemployment certainly do. When the history of this election is written, this may well have been the week when Mitt Romney won the debate and Barack Obama won the White House.
8 October 2012