U.S. jobless rise could hurt lingering voters for Obama

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Friday's rise in jobless numbers could impact President Barack Obama's re-election bid as his campaign scrambles to pick up every last vote just days before the elections, experts said.

The jobless rate ticked back upwards on Friday to 7.9 percent from the previous month's 7.8 percent. Prior to September, the jobless rate had been above the 8 percent mark for nearly four years.

The upswing could make a big difference in a neck-in-neck race in which a few extra votes here and there could determine the election, even though the rate went up because the workforce grew.

While most voters have already made up their minds, many prior elections have seen significant numbers of people wait until the last minute to decide which candidate they would back.

In 2008, 3 percent of the electorate waited until the last three days to decide and 4 percent waited until the last three days to decide in 2004. In 2000, when the election was razor-close, a whopping 11 percent waited until the last three days to make up their minds, according to exit polls published by the American Enterprise Institute.

"From a campaign perspective I think it matters," said Republican Strategist Ford O'Connell, adding that challenger Mitt Romney can use the figures to promote his economic message.

"It may not make a big move in the needle for voting, but it's so neck-in-neck right now that just about anything is crucial," he said, adding that people are paying close attention to the race these last few days.

Friday's uptick could interrupt the White House narrative that the economy is slowly but surely improving and that Americans must be patient. Indeed, analysts have over the past several months contended that Obama does not need to turn the economy around overnight to win the election, but he must show that it is moving in the right direction.

Nevertheless, the U.S. economy has been struggling for several years now to recover from the worst recession in decades. Millions remain unemployed or underemployed; new college graduates cannot find work in their fields; and many struggle to pay off educational loans.

Romney has made Obama's perceived economic missteps the focus of his campaign, faulting the president for high unemployment numbers and a weak economy.

In a speech Friday, Romney blasted the president for not lowering the unemployment rate as he said he would during his campaign four years ago.

"The same course we have been on will not lead to a better destination," he said to applause, although the challenger has been criticized for not providing enough specifics on how he would get the economy moving if elected.

Still, it is historically difficult to unseat an incumbent president, as many voters are uncomfortable with the notion, and Obama remains a popular president. However, former Presidents Jimmy Carter in 1980 and George H.W. Bush in 1992 both lost their re-election bids amid bad economies.

Meanwhile, both Obama and Romney continued to hit the campaign trail hard on Friday to make their closing arguments in the run-up to Tuesday, when voters will cast their ballots. Endi

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