A newly combative President Obama got another bit of good news Friday, with a new jobs report showing the nation’s unemployment rate in December dropping to 8.5 percent and the economy adding 200,000 new jobs.

The unemployment rate is down slightly from last month and continues on what looks to be a more and more consistent downward trend; December was also the sixth-straight month that at least 100,000 jobs have been created.

So what does this mean politically as we move further into 2012?

This is the best jobs report Obama has seen in a long time, and the unemployment rate is now lower than it has been since early 2009, shortly after he took over the White House.

What’s more, its starting to appear that the unemployment rate could approach the magic 8 percent figure — no president in recent history has been reelected with unemployment above that number, and it’s the number the Obama Administration (incorrectly) predicted would not be breached after the stimulus package passed — by the time Obama faces reelection. Obama recently suggested the rate could dip below 8 percent, while our colleague Brad Plumer noted that it’s still a very tough slog.

If Obama can return the unemployment rate to closer where it was when he took over (7.8 percent) or lower, that would be extremely helpful to his reelection bid. Even with the rate in the upper eights, his job approval rating had begun to recover a bit.

Republicans would still be able to argue that Obama’s team predicted unemployment would never go over 8 percent, but Obama’s team would have a credible argument that things are headed in the right direction after some very tough economic times. And generally, that’s what matters.

Upon the release of the report, Republicans set about tempering the findings, and they have some fair points. Notably, they say that the unemployment still remains high and that many discouraged Americans have simply left the workforce, which means they aren’t counted as “unemployed.”

Republican National Committee Chairman Reince Priebus reacted to the report thusly:

“Instead of fixing (the economy), he made things worse — imposing a massive regulatory regime, pushing job-killing mandates, and racking up trillions of dollars in debt,” Priebus said in a statement.

But the fact is that Republicans, rather than being able to point to a worsening economy, are now having to focus on arguing that things are still bad and re-litigating what happened three years ago.

And that’s surely a good sign for Obama.

Republicans have largely stood in the way of Obama’s proposals, content to let him rise or (they hope) fall on his own when it comes to the economy.

If the economy keeps heading in the right direction, Obama will be happy to own it.