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.
FLASHBACK: DIANE SAWYER TO BEN BERNANKE IN MARCH: "Do you hold up real hope that by the end of this year we'll be below 8 percent?" CHAIRMAN BERNANKE: "Well, our forecasts are that - we'll be close to 8 percent, something like that. But that depends very much on how fast the economy grows. If it continues to grow at - at a moderate rate - sort of - 2-2.5 percent - then we might not make much more progress this year. If it picks up, which is a possibility - we could do better. Obviously we hope - to make more progress. But, you know, we're not- again as I said before we're - we're cautious." http://abcn.ws/R340cw
EARLY VOTING UPDATE. Polls opened in Ohio this week to early voters, and early and in-person absentee voting is now under way in three battleground states: Iowa, Virginia and Ohio. ABC's Elizabeth Hartfield notes that in Virginia, 86,050 absentee ballot applications have gone out. In Iowa, a total of 292,694 absentee ballots have been requested and 94,135 have been received as of October 3rd- including 17,640 ballots from registered Republicans and 59,692 ballots from Democrats. In Ohio, as the polls readied for opening on Tuesday, the Secretary of State's office reported that more than 920,000 ballots had been sent out statewide. The Secretary's office does not yet have numbers for how many people turned out at the polls in the opening days of early voting.
with Elizabeth Hartfield ( @LizHartfield)
IS THE PRESIDENTIAL DEBATE A GAME CHANGER? ABC's George Stephanopoulos notes, there's no question that Wednesday's debate got Romney back in the game. After a month of being on defense, he's on offense right now and both campaigns expect the polls to tighten over the next several days. But the question remains whether you will see movement in those key battleground states, especially Ohio. George's analysis: http://abcn.ws/PWkfZb
HOW PRESIDENT OBAMA'S DEBATE STRATEGY HELPED MITT ROMNEY. ABC's Jake Tapper reported that President Obama's strategy at the debate was a calculated decision not to risk looking un-presidential by criticizing Romney on the controversial 47 percent video, among other things. Top Democrats suggest that one of the problems might have been one common to incumbents: The president has lived in a bubble for four years where he's rarely challenged. The campaign said today they were going to conduct a reassessment for the next debate. Watch Jake's "World News" report: http://abcn.ws/PVkqE4
POLITICALLY FOUL: ANIMAL TALES FROM THE CAMPAIGN TRAIL. In the latest episode of ABC and Yahoo!'s power players series "Politically Foul" ABC political director Amy Walter takes a look at some of the more out of bounds comments and events on the campaign trail and on the airwaves. This week's theme: animals. Montana Senator Jon Tester released an ad featuring talking heads mounted to a cabin wall, while Nancy Pelosi's challenger John Dennis released an ad depicting a Pelosi lookalike leading a group of monsters in a ceremony to sacrifice a lamb. WATCH: http://yhoo.it/UmhEOu
MITT ROMNEY: 'AN IMPORTANT NIGHT FOR THE COUNTRY'. ABC's Emily Friedman and Shushannah Walshe report that a jubilant Mitt Romney bounded on a concert stage in Virginia last night to capitalize on his strong debate performance, telling the crowd of thousands that Americans were finally able to see that he and the president "stand for something very different." "Now, last night was an important night for the country because people got the chance," said Romney, immediately interrupted by cheers as soon as he mentioned the debate. "They got the chance cut through all the attacks and counterattacks and all of the theatrics associated with a campaign and, instead, they were able to listen to substance. Romney summed up the debate in single line: "What you didn't hear last night from the president is why it is the next four years are possibly going to be better than the last four years." http://abcn.ws/RERnaa
OBAMA FIGHTS BACK. ABC's Devin Dwyer and Greg Krieg report: Looking to rebound from his uninspired performance in Wednesday night's debate, President Obama yesterday mocked his opponent for shape-shifting into a "spirited fellow" who "couldn't have been Mitt Romney." "The real Mitt Romney has been running around the county for the last year promising $5 trillion in tax cuts to favor the wealthy," the president told supporters in Denver. "The fellow on the stage last night said he didn't know about that." "The Mitt Romney we all know," he said, had invested in companies that sent jobs overseas. "The guy onstage last night, he said that he doesn't even know that there are such laws that encourage outsourcing." Despite the digs, Obama's comments about the "spirited fellow" he met in the debate were a tacit acknowledgement that Romney had gotten the better of their first encounter. http://abcn.ws/Umhabd
BIDEN TURNS ATTACK DOG ON ROMNEY DAY AFTER DEBATE. One day after President Obama delivered what was by all accounts a lackluster debate performance, Vice President Joe Biden went on the attack against Mitt Romney, delivering zinger after zinger against the GOP nominee and his running mate, Rep. Paul Ryan, ABC's Arlette Saenz reported from Iowa. Biden drilled into the former Massachusetts governor on Medicare, saying the governor has changed his position on Medicare so many times that the "public is gonna have collective amnesia" if it believes Romney over "those of us who spent our entire careers protecting and fighting for Medicare." http://abcn.ws/REvJmt
ROMNEY DOMINATES IN POST-DEBATE BETTING. ABC's Amy Bingham notes: It will be days before public opinion polls will have tallied how President Obama and Mitt Romney performed at the first presidential debate. But, while the odds are still with the president, betting men have been casting their lots for Romney. On both Intrade, an Ireland-based online betting market, and BetFair, its English counterpart, the odds that Romney will win the election spiked in the aftermath of his strong debate performance as bettors poured thousands of pounds and dollars into predicting who will win the White House in November. http://abcn.ws/PUgxPM
THE ROMNEY WHO MIGHT HAVE BEEN. Robert Draper reports in this week's New York Times Magazine: "Mitt Romney's unsteady campaign performance has yet to convince voters that he is a "Marshall-type figure" who can, in his own distinct way, fill the office of the presidency. Only recently has Romney begun to detail the policies he would pursue if elected, as if they were hatched from a few late-night strategy sessions after a string of bad news days rather than from the candidate's core philosophy. The fact that Romney is in charge of his own widely criticized campaign doesn't appear to be especially reassuring to the electorate - and even so, his campaign tactics reveal only what he would do in order to win, not what he'll do once he has won. Romney faces an incumbent with his own leadership issues, though Obama has the benefit of surrogates who are deft at ascribing fittingly presidential characteristics to him." http://nyti.ms/QO4SkQ
ROMNEY AND BIG BIRD: DISCUSS. ABC's Abby Phillip reports, Mitt Romney looked a little uneasy firing Big Bird during Wednesday night's presidential debate, said body language expert Chris Kowal. "When he talked about Big Bird he looked down at his right and I suspect he was actually uncomfortable making that point," Kowal said. "If you're uncomfortable with something you don't give great eye contact. You might look away." Romney's discomfort was likely compounded because he made his now famous Big Bird comment while saying he would cut the funding to PBS, the company that employs the debate's moderator Jim Lehrer. http://abcn.ws/Umi4EA
OBAMA APPEALS TO GAY MARRIAGE SUPPORTERS IN 'LIVE FREE' NEW HAMPSHIRE. Bloomberg's Julie Bykowicz reports: "'What are you going to tell them? You were too busy? You didn't think it mattered?' a woman asks in an advertisement now playing on radios in New Hampshire. 'Is that what you're going to to tell your friends who can't get married?' The minute-long spot by President Barack Obama's re-election campaign marks a rare foray into the issue of same-sex marriage. The president declared his support for the cause in a televised interview in May. Yet, until now, gay marriage appears to have popped up in just a single ad that aired one time on MTV, according to data gathered by Kantar Media's CMAG, a New York-based ad tracker." http://bloom.bg/VBhKQ6
ROMNEY BENEFITS FROM RIGOROUS DEFENSE OF HIS TAX PLAN. "In one of the debate's first exchanges, the Republican presidential nominee directly challenged President Obama's assertion that Romney's tax plan would finance big new breaks for the wealthy by wiping out popular deductions for those who earn less than $250,000 a year," The Washington Post's Lori Montgomery and Peyton Craighill report. "Hours later, Romney released a new TV ad arguing that Obama, not Romney, is the bigger threat to middle-class pocketbooks - the second this week. Neither spot offers new information about how Romney would pay for his tax plan, which is heavy on promises but light on details. Instead, the ads seek to shift the conversation to more comfortable territory for Republicans: Which candidate is more likely to raise taxes? The pushback from Romney comes as Republicans are widely concerned that he is doing a poor job of defending his tax plan, the centerpiece of his agenda for sparking economic growth and creating jobs." http://wapo.st/PUTwMC
NRA ENDORSES ROMNEY AS 'ONLY HOPE' FOR FIREARMS FREEDOM. The Hill's Jonathan Easley writes: "The National Rifle Association (NRA) endorsed Mitt Romney for president late Thursday. NRA Executive vice president Wayne LaPierre and NRA Political Victory Fund chairman Chris Cox will formally announce the endorsement at a Romney rally in Virginia later Thursday evening. Vice presidential candidate Paul Ryan will also be on hand. 'In this election, there is no debate,' LaPierre said in a statement. 'There is only one choice - only one hope - to save our firearms freedom and our way of life.'" http://bit.ly/PBHS7Y
EDUCATION A TOP TWEET TOPIC IN FIRST DEBATE. USA Today's Paul Singer reports: "Education played a minor role in the presidential debate Wednesday night, but education-related tweets were dominant among messages that named Mitt Romney or President Obama, an analysis by the social media firm VoterTide found. VoterTide analyzed a sample of tweets sent between 8:45 p.m. and 10:45 p.m. ET Wednesday and concluded that education was mentioned in 24 % of tweets mentioning Obama and 33% of tweets mentioning Romney, with health care coming in second for both candidates." http://usat.ly/RE3013
IN THE NOTE'S INBOX:
-IF YOU READ ONE MORE THING ABOUT THE DEBATE… "Clear Win for Romney - but Don't Count the President Out," by Republican strategist Joe Brettell, guest blogging on the Denver Post's "Idea Log": "Romney seemed very prepared for attacks on his tax plan, health care and the role of government and surprisingly, Obama seemed to lack the personal touch and cool demeanor that seemed so effortless in 2008. Romney supporters should expect a much stronger performance from the President on Oct. 16. … [The] President must find either new attacks or more substantive evidence to back them up. When pressed, he seemed to rely on familiar targets, such as oil companies, corporate jet owners and even Donald Trump, only finding his footing when discussing the role of entitlement programs and how they helped his grandmother. … Equally surprising were the topics that weren't mentioned by either moderator Jim Lehrer or the candidates. Big Bird received more screen time than the Keystone Pipeline, while topics like infrastructure, immigration, the looming 'fiscal cliff' talks and climate change were never broached." http://bit.ly/RhTXkm
-UNFRIENDLY SKIES: MOVEON.ORG SEEKS TO EXPOSE ROMNEY 'LIES': MoveOn.org Political Action will take to the skies to call out Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney for what the group says are Mitt Romney's "lies" during the first presidential debate. MoveOn's announcement: "A 99airlines banner reading: 'Mitt Lies, Big Bird Dies' (holding him to account for lying about his tax plan, deficit plan, Medicare, as well as pledging to cut funding for PBS - despite his love for Sesame Street's character Big Bird) will fly over Romney's campaign event in Abingdon, Va."
- CHAMBER OF COMMERCE RELEASES NEW ADS IN ILLINOIS AND MASSACHUSETTS HOUSE RACES. The Chamber of Commerce goes up with four new ads today, three in Illinois, and one in Massachusetts. In Illinois the group is targeting races in the 11th, 12th and 17th districts. In the 12th district and the 17th district the Chamber goes after the Democratic nominee in each of the respective races- Cheri Bustos and Bill Enyart. In Massachusetts the Chamber is going up with an ad attacking John Tierney, the Democratic incumbent in the 6th congressional district. WATCH THE ADS: IL-12: http://bit.ly/QzvmYN IL-17: http://bit.ly/PWMSFvMA-6: http://bit.ly/Oa2rwe
@SteveRattner : Nice lift for Obama from jobs numbers. Good (or good enough) news on all fronts. Drop in unemployment rate is real.
@McCormackJohn : Spoke briefly with Paul Ryan last night about his debate prep http://www.weeklystandard.com/blogs/paul-ryan-readies-debate-biden_653713.html …
@donnabrazile : What's on your Columbus weekend menu? Gorgeous day. Time to get reacquainted with Mr. Chip, my pomeranian. Thank God, he hates politics.
with ABC's Josh Haskell (@HaskellBuzz)
-President Obama starts his morning in Fairfax, VA speaking at a campaign event at George Mason University. In the afternoon, the President travels to Cleveland, OH addressing supporters at Cleveland State University.
-Mitt Romney is in Coal Country addressing voters at Carter Machinery in Abingdon, VA. In the evening, Romney heads to St. Petersburg, Florida for a rally at Pier Park.
Check out The Note's Futures Calendar : http://abcn.ws/ZI9gV