High unemployment in battleground states could hamper Obama's campaign

The April jobs numbers offered tentative hope for President Obama’s reelection bid, but a potentially more telling indicator will come later this month: the latest state-by-state unemployment data.

Despite a slight uptick in the national unemployment rate — now at 9 percent — the economy added more private-sector jobs last month than economists predicted, allowing Obama to claim Friday that there had been further "progress" toward a full economic recovery.

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But in several key 2012 battleground states, where economic progress will likely be critical to Obama's reelection hopes, the unemployment rate remains above the national average.

New data is set for release May 20, but the current numbers hover near or over double digits.

Unemployment in Florida, Nevada, Colorado and North Carolina is above the 9 percent mark, with Nevada claiming the highest unemployment rate in the nation at 13.2 percent.

Florida's rate is the nation's third highest, coming in at 11 percent. North Carolina's unemployment rate stands at 9.7 percent with Colorado at 9.2 percent.

Florida is considered a must-win for Obama in 2012, while North Carolina is among the states the president would like to keep in his column.

In North Carolina last cycle, Obama won a narrow victory in the traditionally Republican state over Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) and Democrats have selected Charlotte as the site of the party's 2012 national convention — a nod to Obama's seriousness about contesting it again next year.

And there are several battleground states where the unemployment rate is near the national average.

In Ohio, for example, the unemployment rate is 8.7 percent.

While the national unemployment rate "is obviously going to be critical" for Obama next year, argues Republican pollster Adam Geller, "The fact that it's higher in some of these battleground states is a big problem for the president."

Even if the national unemployment rate continues to inch downward before November 2012, Geller predicts Obama will find it next to impossible to make a successful case for Democratic economic policies in battleground states where the unemployment rate hovers between 8 and 10 percent.

"If the economy was booming, the death of [Osama] bin Laden would carry Obama back into office," Geller said. "His problem is that the economy trumps all else."

The 11 states with the highest unemployment rates account for a total of 171 electoral votes, though many of them won't be hotly contested in 2012.

Fifty-five of those electoral votes come from the heavily blue state of California, while the majority of other states are either solidly red or blue.

In other likely battleground states, the unemployment rate has been on the decline, or at least shown signs of stabilizing. In Pennsylvania, the rate is 7.8 percent, while Wisconsin’s is 7.4 percent and Virginia’s is 6.3 percent.

Pollster John Zogby argues that it's the national unemployment rate that will exert the most impact on Obama's 2012 fortunes with anything above 8 percent severely endangering the president's prospects for a second term.

"A feeling that the economic indicators are all moving in the right direction would be a boost even if the number isn't as low as the White House would like," Zogby said, noting that Obama could fight back in Florida, Ohio and Pennsylvania, given that Republicans occupy the governor's mansions in those states.

All three Republican governors in those states have less-than-stellar approval ratings, which continue to decline.

A slew of new polls released this past week showed a bump for Obama’s approval rating, ranging between 6 and 10 percentage points, but his numbers on the economy remain in the tank. Even as Obama's overall approval jumped 11 points in the latest CBS/New York Times poll, the numbers on his handling of the economy hit an all-time low at 55 percent disapproval.

The 244,000 jobs added in April is the most since April and May 2010, when the number of jobs created spiked because of hiring for the U.S. census. It appears to be the most jobs the private sector has created since early 2006.

As the White House trumpeted the new jobs figures Friday, the president’s potential Republicans rivals pounced.

Former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney called the slight uptick in the unemployment rate "another reminder of the failure of President Obama's economic policies."