By Vicki Needham - 10/04/12 08:46 PM EDT
A weak September jobs report on Friday could put another dent into President Obama's reelection campaign less than two days after a bruising debate over the nation's ailing economy.
Worse-than-expected figures from the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) could provide another boost for Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney's campaign, which was energized following the candidates' first debate on Wednesday.
But better numbers could steer some momentum, even if only for a day, back toward Obama's camp, which was leading the polls nationwide and showing solid gains across key battleground states such as Ohio and Florida before the debate.
Job creation has remained slow but steady through the summer, though it hasn't proceeded at a fast-enough clip to bring down unemployment; barring any surprises from Friday's report, it could only create some short-term buzz for either campaign.
"If the report is close to my expectations, I don’t think it will have a material impact on the presidential election," said Mark Zandi, chief economist with Moody's Analytics.
"It shows the economy is improving, but painfully slowly, which isn’t news to anyone."
During their first face-to-face meeting in Denver, both men tried to cast themselves as the best option to repair the economy and create jobs.
Each outlined similar solutions — improving education, expanding U.S. energy and keeping tax rates in check for small businesses — while underscoring that they would proceed differently on each issue.
The president touted the creation of 5 million jobs in the private sector during his time in office, an auto industry that is "roaring back" and an improving housing market.
All told, about 4.4 million jobs have been created in the past two years, but that is still only about half of the nearly 9 million lost during the economic downturn, Zandi said.
Last week, BLS reported that it had undercounted job growth, and that the economy added 386,000 more jobs than previously estimated between April 2011 and March of this year.
The unemployment rate has been above 8 percent for the duration of Obama's term, and no president since Franklin Roosevelt has been reelected with such a high rate of joblessness.
Zandi's forecast calls for an increase of 125,000 private-sector jobs, below the 162,000 estimate made by payroll processor ADP on Wednesday.
After Friday's report, there will be only one more before Election Day.
If the forecasts pan out, job creation for September would eclipse August's disappointing 96,000 figure.
Hiring is on a hiatus while businesses wait for Congress to craft an agreement on the "fiscal cliff" issues of tax increases and spending cuts.
Businesses have indicated recently in a series of surveys that their growing concern about the fiscal cliff's tax and spending issues is hampering their willingness to hire before a solution is reached by Congress.
Only 16 percent of small business owners reported that they plan to add employees this year, and the majority expects to hold off hiring into 2013, according to a U.S. Chamber of Commerce survey this week.