By Kevin Liptak
Friday's jobs report indicating only 96,000 jobs were created in August brought a quick end to any lingering Democratic euphoria from this week's party convention, bringing into sharp reality the challenges President Barack Obama will face in the two months remaining until Election Day.
The monthly report, one of the few remaining before voters head to the polls November 6, showed the unemployment rate falling to 8.1% as more workers withdrew from the labor force. The 96,000 jobs created were also not enough to keep up with the population entering the workforce.
Republicans, eager to portray Obama as weak on economic policy and jobs creation, quickly latched onto Friday's report as another indication that his time in office has been a failure, saying Obama's policies were hurting struggling Americans - and that the time had come for a change.
"If last night was the party, this morning is the hangover," Mitt Romney, Obama's Republican challenger, wrote soon after the report was released. "For every net new job created, nearly four Americans gave up looking for work entirely. This is more of the same for middle class families who are suffering through the worst economic recovery since the Great Depression."
Reince Priebus, the chairman of the Republican National Committee, said the report was "a clear reminder that he has yet to keep his number one promise to fix the economy."
"The indisputable message of today's job report: We're not creating jobs fast enough, and we're certainly not better off than we were four years ago. Time is up Mr. President," he continued in his statement, sent just minutes after the Labor Department numbers were released.
"The millions of Americans who voted for Barack Obama in 2008 are realizing it's time to break up with this president," he continued. "He promised hope and change but delivered division and despair. With Mitt Romney we can do better."
While jobs numbers aren't the only important economic figures, they are the most highly scrutinized. No sitting president facing an unemployment rate higher than 8% has won another term since Franklin D. Roosevelt.
Even a confident Wall Street will do little to pad the blow to Obama following Friday's report. On Thursday the Dow Jones industrial average surged 245 points, or 1.9%, and closed at the highest level since December 2007. The S&P 500 climbed 2% to its highest level since January 2008 while the Nasdaq shot up 2.2% to its highest level since November 2000.
"These numbers really reinforce my sense of where the race stands after both conventions," CNN Senior Political Analyst Ron Brownstein said after Friday's numbers were released. "To me, it felt like neither Mitt Romney nor Barack Obama really demonstrated a second gear that would really expand their coalition beyond what they came in with. And thus the race seems poised for just trench warfare with each side fighting to move very small margins among their various constituencies.
"This is not catastrophic enough to drop the bottom out from President Obama, but no tailwind behind him at all. And just setting us up for grinding trench warfare," he continued.
David Frum, another CNN contributor and a former speechwriter for President George W. Bush, said the numbers meant more people were giving up hope - and that was bad for Obama.
"For the president's point of view and the president's party, when people give up on looking for work, they also give up on trying to vote," Frum said. "They become detached from society. And those are the people he needs to motivate. They have to at least have hope. And here they are demonstrating when they quick looking for work they are giving up on hope."
As reflected in Democrats' struggles over answering the question "are you better off today than you were four years ago," the president's team must maintain a balance between touting the ways the economy has improved, while still recognizing the dire circumstances facing millions of Americans.
Former President Bill Clinton, speaking to delegates Wednesday, summed up the Democrats' challenge this way: "Many Americans are still angry and frustrated with the economy. Though employment is growing, banks are beginning to lend and even housing prices are picking up a bit, too many people don't feel it."
If Obama is re-elected, Clinton said, "You will feel it."
The president himself made a similar pitch Thursday, saying "change will not happen" if voters turn him away in November.
"The truth is, it will take more than a few years for us to solve challenges that have built up over decades," Obama added.