If his performance in Wednesday night's debate was the best thing that could have happened to Mitt Romney, today's jobs numbers, which showed the unemployment rate dropping below 8 percent for the first time in 43 months, are probably the worst.
By the same token, the numbers could provide a boost -- real and psychological -- to the Obama campaign, which had been set back on its heels after the president's lackluster performance on stage in Denver. Although the drop in the unemployment rate is the best news Team Obama could have hoped for heading into the final, crucial month of the campaign, Romney and his GOP allies still have the ammunition to say -- and they will -- that this has been a weak recovery. The Obama campaign will say that the trend is heading in the right direction.
Before today's jobs numbers, both Democrats and Republicans were bracing for movement in the polls after this week's debate.
That may still happen, but the only question is: Will it last? Democrats argue that debates don't impact the final election outcome. And as we have noted here before, debates have moved elections only in rare instances like the Bush vs. Gore race in 2000.
Even one very plugged-in Republican conceded that the ability of the debate to transform this race "depends on the next three days of driving the message of Obama as failure and Romney as acceptable alternative."
Between the debate and this morning's unemployment report, much has changed in the space of just a few days, and the candidates are barnstorming the battlegrounds in a quest for votes.
Last night, Romney drew a crowd of 6,000 who were treated to country music stars and fireworks in Virginia. Obama attracted a whopping 30,000 in Madison, Wisconsin Thursday afternoon.
Obama's message in the Badger State: "Whoever it was that was on stage last night doesn't want to be held accountable for what the real Mitt Romney has been saying for the last year," the president said. "Here's the truth: Governor Romney cannot pay for his $5 trillion tax plan without blowing up the deficit or sticking it to the middle class."
And Romney's message to his audience in Virginia: "I got the chance to ask the president questions that people across the country have wanted to ask him, such as why is it that he pushed Obamacare at a time when we had 23 million people out of work?" Romney said. "I asked him those questions and you heard his answers. I think as a result of those answers, the American people recognize that he and I stand for something very different. I'm going to help the American people get good jobs and a bright future." Forget Labor Day or the conventions, it seems like the fall campaign has just begun.