(CNN) – In a week that looked like it would end with widespread criticism of President Barack Obama's debate performance, it instead closed with a slight boost to his campaign with Friday's surprising jobs report, according to a CNN roundtable.
The report, released by the Labor Department, showed that 114,000 jobs were added during the month of September, and that the unemployment rate had fallen to 7.8%, down from 8.1% in August. The jobs report was less of a happy occasion for the president and more of a relief the week did not end with politically harmful jobs statistics, CNN Chief White House Correspondent Jessica Yellin said Sunday on "State of the Union."
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Yellin said the unemployment rate was a "symbolic" marker for the president, as it occurred at a point in the campaign when many undecided voters begin to decide their pick. In addition, she said, the job numbers drew attention away from the debate.
Joining Yellin on the roundtable were Moody's Analytics Chief Economist Mark Zandi, Former Congressional Budget Office Director Douglas Holtz-Eakin and New York Times White House Correspondent Jackie Calmes.
Holtz-Eakin warned that it might be too soon to celebrate just yet, as the numbers could be readjusted with a higher unemployment rate in next month's jobs report. That possibility, he said, would hurt the president, as the report is due to be issued the Friday before Election Day. Calmes pointed out that many people will have voted by that point through early voting.
Calmes also noted that the decreased unemployment rate was even better than it looked, as it resulted from people finding jobs, rather than people quitting the job search and leaving the labor force. Holtz-Eakin did call attention to the fact that labor force participation was at its lowest levels since 1981, although Zandi said much of that was due to demographics.
With the positive jobs report, Calmes said she believes that Republican nominee Mitt Romney should continue to focus on the economy, saying the campaign has been hurt in recent weeks when it focused on other topics.
Yellin said the candidates should talk about the economy through personal stories, which could allow the candidates to "break through" with voters. She pointed out that Romney during the debate told a few stories of struggling Americans he had met on the campaign trail and said that helped him. Romney, rather than focusing on the abstract, should "get away from the [jobs] numbers, and tell the reality," she said.
Holtz-Eakin also dismissed the theory among some conservatives that the Obama administration manipulated the jobs report for political gain, saying "the numbers were collected in a professional way," and were a "statistical anomaly, not a conspiracy." Zandi called the theory "silly" and "counterproductive."
Calmes said that if the conspiracy was real, then the White House should have been manipulating jobs reports much earlier, as most voters had probably already made a conclusion about the economy's trajectory.
Zandi also discussed a Moody's projection that has Obama winning the election based on the economies of individual states, pointing to the improving economy of Ohio in particular, and said the administration's bailout of the auto industry was a major boost for the state.
The roundtable also briefly previewed Thursday's vice presidential debate between Vice President Joe Biden and Romney running mate Paul Ryan.
Holtz-Eakin said it will give voters the opportunity to see Ryan for the first time without the "distraction of the campaigns" and that people will "be surprised by what they see." Yellin said Biden will have to try to make up for Obama's debate performance and that Biden has historically been a strong debater.
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