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Changing fortunes in 2012 race as May jobs report gives Romney the spotlight

The release of the monthly jobs number Friday offered two possibilities: Added jobs would be around the predicted 158,000 and President Barack Obama could breathe a little easier; or the figure of added jobs would be lower and Mitt Romney could attack.

With the release of the official number — 69,000 jobs and a 0.1 percent uptick in unemployment — the ball has moved to Romney's court.

"Mitt Romney now has a good chance of being the next president," John Cassidy wrote at The New Yorker. "How good is good? Your guess is worth as much as mine, but we both know that the likelihood of a Romney victory went up considerably this morning with the release of a shockingly bad jobs report."

"Why is this presidential race close? And why might it get closer?" MSNBC echoed in its First Thoughts. "Look no further than today's jobs report for May, which is a gut-punch for Team Obama."

In a FiveThirtyEight post, Nate Silver suggested that any jobs reports that came in at under 150,000 jobs could put President Obama on a trajectory toward defeat, with some caveats.

"The current forecast for labor growth points toward an extremely close election — one in which every job above or below that 150,000 threshold could be critical," Silver wrote.

The jobs data keeps the focus on the president's performance and record, Stu Rothenberg of the Rothenberg Political Report in Washington told Bloomberg Businessweek.

"It simply makes it harder for the president to say it's not about me and it's about a choice between two men," he said. "It's much easier for Romney to say, 'Now, wait a minute, is he doing a good job?'"

The current 8.2 percent unemployment rate was the first rise since June, and the 69,000 jobs added in May were the fewest added in a year. The number was about half of what is needed to keep up with population growth. The April jobs numbers were also revised from 115,000 to 77,000, and the March numbers were lowered from 153,000 to 143,000. The stall in growth has economists warning about the possibility of a second recession.

"Consider this: Last year, the U.S. grew at just a 1.7 percent pace," James Pethokoukis wrote at The American. "Research from the Federal Reserve finds that since 1947 when year-over-year real GDP growth falls below 2 percent, recession follows within a year 70 percent of the time. We are firmly within the Recession Red Zone."

"The May jobs report indicates growth could be even slower in the second quarter, and the economy is dangerously close to stalling and falling into a recession," University of Maryland economist Peter Morici said.

"Already it's bad. If you get another bad number next month, it's fire and brimstones," said Dan Greenhaus, chief global strategist at BTIG.

The Romney campaign greeted the jobs number with a new ad slamming the president for solar panel company Solyndra's failure, but the ad also addressed the larger issue of free enterprise.

"I'm afraid the reason that the stimulus has been unsuccessful, that the turnaround has taken so long to occur, that the recovery has been so tepid, is that the president fails to understand the basic nature of free enterprise in America," Romney said in the ad.

Romney also quickly changed places with adviser Vin Weber, who was scheduled to appear on CNBC, in order to discuss the new number. The blame for the jobs data, Romney said, rests squarely on Obama.

"The president is always quick to find someone to blame," Romney said. "First it was George Bush, then Congress, ATM machines, then it was Europe. The truth is it's the job of the president to get people back to work ... . These numbers are devastating."

In another new ad titled, "A Better Day," Romney promises to focus on the economy and the deficit from day one, to unleash energy resources and to stand up to China on trade.

Obama's team has cited the jobs numbers as a reason to stay the course in November and keep him in office.

"It is critical that we continue the president's economic policies that are helping us dig our way out of the deep hole that was caused by the deep recession," said Alan Krueger, Obama's top economic adviser.

"The economy is growing. It's creating jobs. But it's not growing fast enough. It's not creating enough jobs," White House press secretary Jay Carney said Friday. "That's why we have to focus on the things that improve that, improve the economic growth that we've been experiencing now for two and half years."

"I know that these things happen. We go through ups and downs," Secretary of Labor Hilda Solis said on CNBC. "May tends to be that month where you do see a decline. But then, slowly, as we've seen in the last two years, we've been able to put back jobs, and that's really the bottom line here that we've not gone below that. We've actually been able to add jobs for the last 27 months."

In a speech given after the release of the numbers, Obama cited the growth of jobs since he took office, saying the nation was facing headwinds, but that better times are ahead. The president also mentioned the the threat of higher gas prices and Europe's fiscal problems as reasons for the tenuous job growth.

"From the moment we first took action to prevent another depression, we knew the road to recovery would not be easy," Obama said. "We knew it would take time, we knew there would be ups and downs along the way."

According to Intrade, Romney's chances of winning in November jumped after the jobs report, and he now carries a 41.3 percent chance of becoming President Romney.

Toby Harnden, the U.S. executive editor of the Mail Online tweeted that the Dow dropped 220 points at the beginning of the president's speech, and continued downward to 252 points during the speech.

Republicans are "full of it," Cassidy argues back at The New Yorker, but the argument that Romney is better suited to oversee the economy is a potent one that President Obama will have to overcome.

"It isn't as if the Republican nominee-elect has a credible solution to the jobs crisis. He doesn't," Cassidy said. "But when things are bad, challengers are held to a lower standard than incumbents. The 'time for change' argument often resonates more strongly with voters than the incumbent's critique of his opponent's plans."