DES MOINES, Iowa – President Barack Obama campaigned by bus through one of the most crucial battleground states in the November election, but with the economy as the election’s top issue, the trip was threatened by a potentially weak monthly U.S. jobs report.
The monthly unemployment numbers expected Friday could either support Obama’s view that he’s pulling the country back from recession or give Republican challenger Mitt Romney more reason to say the president’s policies are making things worse.
Meanwhile, two Republican officials said Thursday that Romney and the Republican National Committee combined to raise more than $100 million in June, outpacing Obama and the Democrats for a second straight month.
Romney’s fundraising puts him on pace to reach Obama’s impressive cash reserves this summer, just as most voters begin turning their attention to the fall campaign.
Obama could be the first president to be outspent by his opponent — in a presidential race that will be the most expensive ever. That’s four years after he broke fundraising records during his first campaign, pulling in $750 million.
Neither Obama nor the Democratic National Committee has released what they raised in June. A full accounting of the campaigns’ finances is due to the Federal Election Commission by July 20.
Romney’s campaign declined to verify the fundraising total, which was confirmed by Republican officials who asked not to be named because they were not authorized to release the information. The website Politico first reported the figure.
Obama spokesman Ben LaBolt said Romney was leaking the figure to distract from other issues.
In the polls, Obama holds a narrow lead over Romney in a number of closely targeted battleground and swing states. But Romney has crept closer in national head-to-head polls since essentially locking up the Republican nomination in April.
“This is how summer is supposed to feel,” Obama said, wiping sweat from his face as he campaigned under a scorching sun.
Obama aides have been anxiously awaiting Friday’s new jobs numbers, which follow a dismal May report that showed an uptick in the unemployment rate to 8.2 per cent and raised concerns about a further economic slowdown.
Recent economic indicators have been mixed. U.S. manufacturing shrank in June for the first time in nearly three years, according to a report this week. Private payroll provider ADP reported Thursday that U.S. businesses added 176,000 jobs last month, better than the revised total of 136,000 jobs it reported for May. But shoppers pulled back on spending in June.
Obama already faces skepticism from voters over the economy. An Associated Press-GfK poll released last month found that 52 per cent disapproved of his handling of unemployment, compared with 45 per cent who approved.
His brief bus tour is taking him through two battleground states that have a better economic outlook than some parts of the country. Ohio and Pennsylvania had unemployment rates of 7.3 per cent in May, well below the national average of 8.2 per cent.
Recent polls by Quinnipiac University found that Obama held a 9-percentage-point lead over Romney in Ohio and a 6-point lead in Pennsylvania. Obama won both states in the 2008 election.
Romney took his own bus tour through Ohio and Pennsylvania last month. The Republican challenger, on vacation Thursday in New Hampshire, criticized Obama for hitting the road with “no new answers” on the economy.
Republicans also sent former Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty and Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal, two potential vice-presidential nominees, to some of the same towns where Obama was stopping to counter his appeal to voters.
“He’s had his chance. It’s not working,” Pawlenty said Thursday. “And we need to get it moving in a different direction.”
Gillum reported from Washington. Associated Press writers Julie Pace and Ken Thomas in Washington and John Seewer and Ben Feller in Ohio contributed to this report.