Romney has built a campaign with the central premise that he is better positioned than Obama to reinvigorate the U.S. economy, and he has relentlessly hammered the president for overseeing what Romney refers to as the weakest recovery in American history.
Fellow Republicans have begun to question that strategy, urging Romney to do a better job of articulating his own views rather than simply attacking the president. Romney has gained a reputation for being overly cautious, unwilling to stray outside the relatively safe zone of the economy and take on more controversial issues.
But July's gain of 163,000 jobs, a better-than-expected addition that nevertheless pushed the unemployment rate up from 8.2 percent to 8.3 percent, will provide Romney with more ammunition as he tries to convince Americans that Obama has failed them. Romney will cite the numbers, coming after several months in which job growth has been sluggish, to argue that the president's policies have prevented policy makers' and economists goal: a self-sustaining economic expansion with strong job growth -- above 200,000 new jobs per month.
Romney: I'll Create 12 Million Jobs
On Thursday, Romney said in Colorado that his policies would create 12 million new jobs over the course of his administration. He is likely to continue pushing a similar narrative and emphasizing his commitment to cutting taxes and slashing regulations as a way to increase investor confidence and spur businesses to hire.
That's not to say the July numbers are unequivocally bad for Obama. The 163,000 figure still surpasses many economists' predictions and will validate the president's argument that the economy is steadily growing on his watch. Obama will continue to argue that Romney's economic proposals will commit the same mistakes as the Bush administration, under which the rich prospered while middle class incomes stagnated.
The release of jobs data provides a monthly opportunity for both campaigns to calibrate their messages and forge a new appeal to voters, who say in poll after poll that the economy and jobs are their pre-eminent concerns. With Obama and Romney locked in a virtual dead heat, both campaigns will work to explain the July numbers to their advantage.
Their time to do so is slowly diminishing. Only three more monthly job reports remain before the November election, so the window in which Romney and Obama can firm up voter perceptions is gradually closing.