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.
On a state trip to Hanoi, Japanese PM Shinzo Abe promises to help bolster Vietnam's naval capabilities
The US growth estimate was raised a tenth of a point this year to 2.3 percent, and for next year by four-tenths to 2.5 percent.
Flynas chairman Ayed al-Jeaid said at the signing ceremony in Riyadh that the deal includes an option for 40 more of the short to medium-haul planes in what airline executives said is a growing domestic market.
Central Bank skips repo auctions for third trading day to stem sharp decline in lira value against other currencies
Oxfam pointed to a link between the vast gap between rich and poor and growing discontent with mainstream politics around the world.
US dollar/Turkish lira exchange rate fell to stand at 3.7630
Chancellor Philip Hammond says if Britain is 'closed off' from EU markets, it will be forced to be 'something different'
Government plans to claw back lost VAT revenues splits opinion in austerity-hit country
"It would probably be right if the ECB starts daring to head for the exit this year," Schaeuble told the Sueddeutsche Zeitung newspaper -- although he acknowledged it would be a "difficult task".
There was muted reaction to end-of-the-year data from China showing the world's number-two economy was still struggling on the trade front, with uncertainty over Trump's upcoming presidency.
Education, infrastructure spending can help in current environment, observer says.
Erol Bilecik, head of Index Group, to lead Turkish Industrialists’ and Businessmen’s Association
Traders had hoped the real estate tycoon would flesh out some of his campaign promises such as tax cuts and infrastructure spending, but he gave very little away, fuelling uncertainty about his aspiration to boost the US economy.
Samsung Vice Chairman Lee Jae-yong summoned for questioning on corruption charges related to presidential office scandal