President Barack Obama has survived months of lackluster reports on the nation's unemployment with little effect on his approval ratings or his poll lead over Republican rival Mitt Romney, but that could change on Friday.
After a subpar performance Wednesday night against a sharp Romney in their first presidential debate, Obama suddenly seems vulnerable to any bad news. That makes the Labor Department's jobs report for September, which will be released Friday morning, a potential hurdle for Obama in the presidential race.
Polls have indicated that the weak U.S. economy and the high jobless rate - 8.1 percent in August - are voters' top consideration in deciding who they will vote for on November 6.
The monthly unemployment report has been watched closely throughout the campaign, but never more so than on Friday and on November 2, when the October report will be released.
The September figures are to be released at 8:30 a.m. EDT on Friday. Economists polled by Reuters expect the unemployment rate to be 8.0 to 8.3 percent, with non-farm payrolls adding 113,000 new jobs, up from 96,000 in August.
Republicans have been frustrated that a series of mediocre jobs reports appear to have had little effect on Obama's campaign.
In some months, Obama has used his presidential powers to make other news that distracted from the monthly report, such as when he announced he supported gay marriage in May. At other times, campaign missteps by Romney have grabbed the spotlight.
This week, however, a bad jobs report could resonate against the president.
During Wednesday's debate, Romney hammered Obama for his handling of the economy, and reminded voters of his own record as a successful businessman.
"The dynamics have changed after last night," Potomac Strategies Group political analyst Greg Valliere wrote in a research note to clients on Thursday. "Obama is in trouble and may get another dose of bad news when the September jobs report is released tomorrow."
CRACKING 8 PERCENT
Analysts said it would take an increase of 3 or more tenths of a point in the unemployment rate - to 8.4 percent or higher - to really shake voters' faith in Obama. They noted that a drop of 2 tenths of a point - to even 7.9 percent, would be an important psychological boost.
"Something under 8 would certainly be a headline number that the White House would like to see," Valliere said.
A middling jobs report, while not a boon for Obama, probably would not have a huge impact on the Democrat's re-election prospects, Valliere said.
With less than five weeks before Election Day, most voters have decided who they will support. With the jobless rate above 8 percent for 43 months, they have also made up their minds about the economy.
"People are well aware already that the unemployment rate has hung high, that the recovery has been disappointing, but they've adjusted to all of that psychologically, and they are going to base their voting behavior to some extent on other things," said Isabel Sawhill, an economist at the Brookings Institution.
Unemployment has been at 8 percent or above since long before Obama took office in January 2009. Polls show that most Americans do not blame him for the weak economy and trust him more on other issues.
"People still believe that (Republican) President George W. Bush is more responsible for the economic condition we're in than President Obama," said Michael Podhorzer, political director of the AFL-CIO, the largest U.S. labor federation and a major Obama backer.
The economy has been improving, if slowly. Gross Domestic Product is rising, consumers have reduced debt and confidence is rising. Stock prices are also high, good news for the roughly half of Americans who own shares directly or through investment funds.
There is a twist that benefits Obama in the unemployment picture. The national unemployment rate is 8.1 percent, but it is far lower in many of the battleground states where Obama and Romney are both fighting hard for votes.
Iowa's jobless rate is 5.5 percent, New Hampshire's is 5.7, Virginia clocks in at 5.9, Ohio at 7.2 and Wisconsin at 7.5.
Even if they do not pay attention to monthly reports, relatively strong statewide numbers make it less likely that voters in those battlegrounds would be sour on the "Obama economy" and want a change.
"I don't think that voters pay nearly as much attention to (the national unemployment report) as either campaign professionals or economic professionals. Voters judge the state of the economy by when they are talking to their neighbors, did someone get a job offer or not," said Matt McDonald, of the Republican-leaning Hamilton Place Strategies consultancy, an outside consultant to Romney's campaign.
If Obama weathers the post-debate storm, and Friday's jobless report, there is one last chance for a bad - or good - unemployment report to affect the election after all.
The last jobless report of the campaign - for October - comes out on Friday, November 2, just four days before Election Day.
The Slovak pipeline operator Eustream estimated it would ship 22.4 million cubic metres through the pipeline while the Slovak economy minister said the link was ready to run at full capacity.
China has also said it would like to continue to develop "friendly cooperation" with Ukraine and that it respects the ex-Soviet state's independence, sovereignty and territorial integrity.
Selling a fleet of subs would mark the first time since at least the end of World War Two that Japan had sold a complete weapons platform overseas.
The head of Iran's atomic agency says the agreement will be signed next month
A little more than a month ahead of general elections, new figures shows the Brazilian economy contracted by 0.6 percent in the second quarter of 2014
Russia cut off the gas flow in mid-June after the two sides failed to agree on pricing and debts owed for previous gas supplies.
Malaysia Airlines will be de-listed from the Kuala Lumpur exchange by the end of 2014
Venezuela's Petroleum minister, Rafael Ramirez, said earlier this year that PDVSA could import crude as a "last resort" to find diluents for its heavy crudes
Air France, the French network of Air France-KLM said on Wednesday it has suspended its flights to Sierra Leone following advice from the French government
Ukrainian Prime Minister Arseny Yatseniuk said that Kiev knew of plans by Russia to halt gas flows this winter to Europe
The inquiry into tycoon Bernard Tapie has embroiled several of former president Nicolas Sarkozy's cabinet members including Lagarde.
The riot broke out in the southern industrial hub of Johor state on Tuesday at a factory run by JCY International , a Malaysian firm that makes parts for electronic giants including Samsung, Hitachi and Western Digital.
Hawaii and U.S. territories have strong dependency on petroleum imports, because of their physical isolation and lack of fossil fuel resources, while their residential electricity prices have been three to five times the average residential prices of the mainland U.S.
Buyers of Kurdish crude could face lawsuits from Baghdad if the oil moves close to U.S. soil and would also require the seller to provide costly indemnities against potential lawsuits
Deep job losses, route cuts and a change of leadership are expected to feature in a restructuring plan being prepared by Malaysia's government
New company will create the third largest global fast-food chain with annual sales of US$23 billion.