Every day in a presidential campaign matters, because there just aren’t that many of them left. (It’s 158 days until the election — but who’s counting?) But some days matter more.

Political strategists — and economic policy wonks — have the first Friday of every month between now and November circled in red pen on their calendars (if those things still exist), because it’s the day that the Bureau of Labor Statistics releases the previous month’s jobs report.

Today is one of those days. And the May jobs report, which will be released at around 8:30 a.m. eastern time, is the start of a critical three-month period leading up to the national party conventions that will set the economic terms of the fall campaign.

Why? Because the conventions, which start in late August, will blot out the sun in the political world until Labor Day, which signifies the official final sprint to Nov. 6. What people think about the economy (and lots of other things) starts to cement right around that time, and so where the unemployment rate stands heading into early September matters — a lot.

As we have written before, the key for President Obama is not necessarily the specific unemployment rate but rather the trend line over time. Here’s a look at how the unemployment rate has risen and fallen during his first three-plus years in office:

The trend line since last fall has been a positive one for Obama. But look back to the summers of 2009, 2010 and 2011, and you see spikes — of varying sizes — in those months.

Obama simply cannot afford to have that happen again in 2012. If unemployment rises in May, June, and July, the president will struggle to make the case that the economy is starting to pick up steam. And if he can’t find a way to answer the “Are you better off than you were four years ago?” question, it’s hard to see how he wins.

Romney’s political fate is similarly dependent on the economic recovery (or lack thereof). If today’s report shows strong job creation and a drop in the unemployment rate, it complicates Romney’s argument that Obama simply doesn’t know what he is doing on the economy. If the next three months show something similar, Romney and his team will have to find another line of attack against Obama.

Given all of that, the first Fridays of June, July and August may be the three most important political days between now and Labor Day.

Romney gives Obama ‘F’ on foreign policy: In an interview with CBS News on Thursday, Romney gave Obama an “F” for his foreign policy.

“Oh, an ‘F’,” Romney said when asked to grade Obama. “No question about that. Across the board.”

While that might be expected given the fact that Romney is campaigning against Obama, it’s nonetheless interesting given that Osama bin Laden was killed on Obama’s watch. Obama has generally earned positive marks on foreign policy in polls, owing largely to bin Laden’s death.

When that was presented to him, Romney wasn’t backing down. He seemed to separate that episode from foreign policy broadly and said Obama failed in his quest to have an American security force in Iraq and allowed the Arab Spring to become the “Arab Winter.”

“As I look around the world, I happen to believe that his positions on foreign policy have not communicated American strength and resolve,” Romney said.


Nancy Reagan endorses Romney.

Obama adviser Stephanie Cutter will face off with Romney adviser Eric Fehrnstrom on Sunday on ABC’s “This Week.”

Mike Huckabee dismisses “petty past moments between Mitt Romney and me.”

Bill Clinton, who will campaign for the Democrat in the Wisconsin recall election, was anti-recall when former California governor Gray Davis (D) faced one in 2003.

Spending on the recall is now over $60 million.

Sen. Scott Brown (R-Mass.) returns to the sports theme in his new radio ad.

Former Charlotte mayor Pat McCrory (R) is up with his first ad of the North Carolina governor’s race, playing up his focus on the economy.

Missouri Gov. Jay Nixon (D) leads by double digits in a new poll.

California GOP congressional candidate and former lieutenant governor Abel Maldonado is $4 million in debt, according to federal officials


John Edwards acquitted on one count as jury deadlocks on five others and judge declares mistrial” — Manuel Roig-Franzia, Washington Post

Obama, Scott Walker follow the same script for survival” — Mark Murray, MSNBC

Clarence Thomas and Yale begin to repair relationship” — Robert Barnes, Washington Post

Obama Order Sped Up Wave of Cyberattacks Against Iran” — David E. Sanger, New York Times