4 reasons why the monthly jobs report still matters politically for President Obama

Updated at 9:47 a.m.

When the latest monthly employment report was released Friday morning, you can bet that the White House had a very close eye on it.


(Mike Segar/Reuters)

No, we're no longer in the midst of the 2012 presidential campaign, in which each report served as an important political marker in the race between President Obama and Mitt Romney, with both sides pointing to the unemployment rate as a sign of progress or failure. But the reality is that while the report doesn't get nearly as much attention -- at least not in a political context -- these days, it's still a important part of the president's political standing.

Here's why:

* Election season is closer than it seems: Just like those car side-view mirrors that say "objects in mirror are closer than they appear," election season will be here before we know it. Yes, Obama has run his last race and is freed of the constraints of having to go before voters. But the 2014 midterms will be a pivotal moment for his second-term agenda. The country's economic state was a focal point in the past two elections, and it promises to grab the lion's share of attention again. And whether the momentum the economy has picked up lately stalls (the new report shows unemployment is down to its lowest rate since 2008, but the economy added the the fewest jobs in months), gathers more steam, or is halted in the coming months will play a big role in how the public perceives the stewardship of the president -- and by extension, the Democratic Party. Obama has set his sights on the very lofty goal of winning back the House majority. It's a long shot, even under favorable conditions. If the job picture does not continue to improve over the long term, it may be near impossible.

* Sequestration: Economists will be on the lookout for the effects of sequestration, the across-the-board federal spending cuts that recently began taking effect. Obama has been trying to force the sequester back into the foreground of the national conversation, and we can expect that the extent to which sequestration affected the jobs report will be noted by the White House.

Austan Goolsbee, the former chairman of Obama's Council of Economic Advisers, suggested the lackluster numbers in the latest report are a result of the sequester.

“This is a punch to the gut. This is not a good number. And I think now you’re going to interestingly start seeing a lot of discussion about maybe the sequester’s a bigger deal than people thought it was," he told CNBC.

* The upcoming fiscal negotiations: If the White House and congressional Republicans are to strike a long-term deal to address the deficit before the next election, it won't come without intense negotiations. In such talks, the position one is negotiating from can say a lot about where the talks will ultimately end up. And dealing with an Obama emboldened by a continued recovery in the economic -- which many people gauge with the jobs metric -- is very different for Republicans than dealing with a president who is playing defense against questions about why the employment picture doesn't look better.

* The honeymoon may well be over: Obama's approval rating has dropped from where it was in the immediate aftermath of his reelection. This isn't unexpected; such bumps don't last forever. But after the bruising battle over the sequester, and in the president's current effort to lobby for stricter gun laws in a Congress that may not pass them, this is hardly an ideal time for him to deal with other bad news. The latest jobs report -- 88,000 new jobs and an unemployment rate that fell to 7.6 percent, but only because more people stopped looking for employment -- wasn't good compared to recent months.

Fixbits:

Sen. Bill Nelson (D-Fla.) became the latest Democrat to endorse gay marriage.

Former Massachusetts Republican senator Scott Brown isn't ruling out a run against Sen. Jeanne Shaheen (D-N.H.).

Obama called California Attorney General Kamala Harris "by far, the best looking attorney general."

First lady Michelle Obama accidentally called herself a "busy single mother."

Newt Gingrich and Rick Sanotrum are each open to running for president again in 2016.

Rep. John Fleming (R-La.) is not running for the Senate next year.

The NRSC is asking consultants and vendors to offer input about how the committee's IE program can be improved.

Elizabeth Colbert Busch's Democratic primary opponent, Ben Frasier, endorsed Mark Sanford in South Carolina's 1st district special election. It's worth noting that he only won 4 percent of the vote.

Must-reads:

"Obama rekindles talk about boys club after comment about California attorney general" -- Scott Wilson, Washington Post

"Maryland’s leftward swing" -- Paul Schwartzman, Washington Post

"Deep in the Red of Texas, Republicans Fight the Blues" -- Neil King Jr., Wall Street Journal

"Mark Zuckerberg immigration group’s status: Stumbling" -- Reid Epstein, Politico

Sean Sullivan has covered national politics for The Washington Post since 2012.

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Sean Sullivan · April 4, 2013