President Obama's reelection effort could be "very rough" if job growth remains anemic, veteran Democratic strategist James Carville warned Monday.
If the economy only adds about 54,000 jobs a month — as it did in May — Carville warned that Obama's 2012 campaign could be in danger.
The Bureau of Labor Statistics reported the economy added 54,000 non-farm payroll positions in the last month, well below expectations. As a result, the unemployment rate crept upward to 9.1 percent.
Uncertainty over the economy has slowed hiring by the private sector, which only added 83,000 jobs last month. Local and state governments have continued to shed workers.
Friday's figures were particularly disappointing because job creation had been more robust in previous months. Between February and April, the economy added an average of 200,000 new jobs. If those figures are more typical of job growth between now and November of 2012, Carville said he thinks Obama will "do okay."
The White House downplayed Friday's report, with Obama economic adviser Austan Goolsbee describing the report as a "bump in the road" and saying it's important not to read too much into a single jobs report. The White House has made similar statements after reports suggesting a jump in the growth of jobs.
President Obama did not directly mention the May jobs report in comments on Friday.
The crowd of Republicans hoping to take Obama on next year took note of the figures, however, and were quick to blame administration policies. The criticism prompted Obama campaign strategist David Axelrod on Monday to criticize "yammering" Republicans for not providing their own jobs plans.
Democrats have been relatively confident about Obama's chances of reelection given a GOP field seen as lackluster and a bump in Obama's approval ratings after the successful mission to kill 9/11 terrorist Osama bin Laden.
Still, the economy has long been seen as the factor that could prevent the president from winning a second term.
Carville, a political strategist for former President Clinton, said the maxim he invented during the the 1992 campaign ("It's the economy, stupid.") would likely guide the 2012 campaign as well.
"This is gruesome on people. This unemployment rate, for this long, is a humanitarian crisis of the first magnitude," he said. "This is a terrible thing that's happened to people's lives. I think the president at one level understands this, but he's kind of limited in what he can do."
As for Obama's eventual Republican opponent, Carville said former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney (R) should win the nomination, but that "people just don't like him."
—This story was posted at 11:27 a.m. and updated at 12:20 p.m.