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Obama pounces on job numbers: ‘We are moving forward again’

President Obama moved quickly Friday to tout the unexpected drop in the unemployment rate, telling voters in swing-state Virginia that the country has “come too far” to turn back to the policies of the past.

“I believe that as a nation we are moving forward again,” Obama said in his opening remarks at a campaign rally at George Mason University in Virginia.

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The Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) report showed the unemployment rate fell from 8.1 percent to 7.8 percent last month as the economy added 114,00 jobs. The number of unemployed fell to 12.1 million, the lowest level since January 2009, which is also the last time the jobless rate was 7.8 percent. 

September’s jobs report is the second to last before the presidential election, and puts the unemployment rate below its level when Obama entered office — a fact the president was eager to highlight on Friday. 

“After losing about 800,000 jobs a month when I took office, our businesses have now added 5.2 million jobs over the past two and a half years. This morning we found out the unemployment rate has fallen to its lowest level since I took office,” Obama said. “More Americans have entered the workforce and more people are getting jobs.”

Speaking at a rally in Ohio on Friday afternoon, Obama echoed his earlier comments, adding, "Today's news should give us some encouragement.

"It should not be an excuse for the other side to talk down the economy," he said, standing in the pouring rain at Cleveland State University.

The labor data provided some much-needed positive news for the president on the heels of his widely panned debate performance Wednesday night, but GOP rival Mitt Romney said the job numbers were no reason for celebration.

“This is not what a real recovery looks like," Romney said in a statement after the figures were released.

Later, speaking at his own campaign rally in southern Virginia, the Republican nominee said the unemployment rate dropped below 8 percent "primarily due to the fact that more and more people have stopped looking for work.”

"It looks like unemployment is getting better," Romney said. "But the truth is that if the same share of people were looking for jobs now as they were when the president took office, the unemployment rate would be 11 percent."

Romney pledged that, if elected president, the unemployment rate would decline "not because people are giving up and dropping out of the workforce, but because we're going to create more jobs."

Obama tied the strengthening labor market to his pitch for a second term, saying every month is bringing more positive news about the economy.

“Now, every month reminds us that we still have too many of our friends and neighbors looking for work,” Obama said during his address in Virginia. “But today’s news is certainly not an excuse to talk down the economy to score a few political points — it’s a reminder that this country has come too far. … I have seen too much pain, too much struggle to let this country get hit with another round of top-down economics.” 

The White House typically tries to downplay the unemployment numbers no matter the direction of their movement, urging Americans not to read too much into any monthly fluctuation in the labor market.  

Obama campaign adviser David Plouffe told MSNBC that the numbers shouldn’t be used for political purposes.

“I don’t think we should focus on the politics today; this is obviously showing we’re continuing to recover from a horrible recession,” he said. “The recession wasn’t an accident — there were policies and reasons that contributed to it. Reckless Wall Street behavior, tax cuts for the wealthy — these are the exact same policies Mitt Romney wants to return to, and I think the president made that point at the debate Wednesday, that the middle class and the economy can’t afford it.”

— This story was corrected at 1 p.m. to reflect that the October employment report will be released before the election. It was first posted at 12:45 p.m. and last updated at 3:18 p.m.

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