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If the jobs report is status quo, who wins?

The political world -- fresh off Wednesday's presidential debate -- is eagerly awaiting the release of the September jobs report this morning from the Bureau of Labor Statistics. It will be looking for some sign of whether (and how) the economic landscape has shifted for the final 32 days of the 2012 campaign.

But what if the report offers no guidance on that subject? That sort of status-quo report is the most likely outcome, according to the Post's chief economic correspondent, Neil Irwin. Writes Irwin:

"While the September jobs report will offer important information on the economic backdrop heading into the final month of the presidential campaign, it would be surprising if the report offered a picture of the economy that was wildly different from what recent months have shown, which is: Job creation is steady but too sluggish to bring down unemployment meaningfully over time."

Despite the less-than-stellar jobs reports in recent months -- 96,000 jobs created and an 8.1 percent unemployment rate in August, for example -- President Obama has made up ground on Mitt Romney when it comes to handling the economy in the past month or so.

In a late September Washington Post-ABC News poll, 47 percent of people said they thought Obama would do a better job handling the economy, while a similar 47 percent said the same of Romney. That's an improvement for the incumbent from an August poll, in which 43 percent said he would do a better job on the economy, as compared to 50 percent who opted for Romney.

Couple Obama's improving numbers on the economy with a turn toward the optimistic in terms of the direction the country is headed -- 38 percent said we are going in the "right direction" in the September Post-ABC poll, the highest that number has been since January 2011 -- and it's possible that the struggling economy is already baked into the calculus of most voters.

BuzzFeed concluded just that with a piece this week headlined: "How the economy collapsed (as a political issue)."

And the Post's Greg Sargent offers this:

It’s grounded in a nuance I believe is central to the Obama campaign’s understanding of the race: The distinction between whether voters have decided Obama has failed, or whether they have decided he has merely disappointed them by falling short of expectations, an outcome these voters have come to see as understandable, given the circumstances.”

Of course, politics is also about context, and the context in which this jobs report will land is decidedly bad for the president. The jobs report comes less than 36 hours after he was clearly bested by Romney in a debate heavily focused on the economy.

If the September jobs report underwhelms -- or even just whelms (not a word, but you know what we mean) -- it could well fit into a "Romney on the rise" narrative and give the candidate more ammo for his "Obama's not working" messaging.

We'll have some answers at 8:30 this morning. 

New Romney ad features ex-NBA star: President Obama is a favorite of professional athletes -- and NBA players in particular.

But Romney is now touting a significant NBA endorsement in Nevada in a new ad.

The ad features former UNLV star and NBA player Greg Anthony, who has worked in recent years as an analyst for TNT and NBA TV, talking about why he no longer supports Obama.

"I voted for Barack Obama, thought he'd be a centrist," Anthony says in the ad. "I really lost faith in him. I'm supporting Mitt Romney. He's a no-excuse kind of guy, and I think over the last few years, we've heard enough excuses."

Anthony starred on the 1990 UNLV team that won a national championship, and he played almost the entire year with a broken jaw.

The Romney campaign is also out with a new jobs-focused ad and another jobs ad geared specifically toward Ohio.

Fixbits:

Top Obama adviser Stephanie Cutter acknowledges that Romney doesn't, in fact, propose a $5 trillion tax cut, but says it's close to that.

Debate ratings exceeded the first debate of 2008.

The Democratic co-chair of the Presidential Debate Commissions said Thursday that future debates might need "a firmer hand on the tiller" after moderator Jim Lehrer largely let the candidates dictate the back-and-forth on Wednesday.

A new ad from Sen. Scott Brown (R-Mass.) hits Elizabeth Warren (D) for serving as a lawyer for big corporations facing payments to victims of asbestos poisoning.

Former Wisconsin governor Tommy Thompson (R), under fire for not hitting the campaign trail hard enough in his Senate race, is avoiding questions about whether he inflated the number of campaign stops he made on Monday.

Two new ads, one from the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee and one from Sen. Jon Tester (D-Mont.), hit Rep. Denny Rehberg (R) for filing a lawsuit against his local fire department after wildfires damaged his property. Rehberg later dropped the suit amidst public concern about the cost of the suit.

Another new DSCC ad in Indiana.

Must-reads:

"Web sites lose to Google in race for Obama, Romney campaign ads" -- Craig Timberg, Washington Post

"In Iowa and Beyond, Tough Tests for Tea Party Favorites" -- Jennifer Steinhauer, New York Times

"Mitt Romney must prove that debate performance was the real him" -- Philip Rucker, Washington Post

"Obama plans to change approach before next presidential debate with Romney" -- Scott Wilson and David Nakamura, Washington Post

"After Debate, a Harsh Light Falls on a Moderator" -- Brian Stelter, New York Times

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