Bad debate, good jobs report for Obama

Source: Campaign sets fundraising record

WASHINGTON (CNN) - A bad week suddenly got a lot better for President Barack Obama, who was criticized by friends and foes for a lackluster debate performance before learning of record fundraising followed by Friday's stronger-than-expected jobs report.

The drop in the unemployment rate to 7.8% provided both a tangible and symbolic campaign boost after analysts and a snap poll said he lost the first debate to Republican challenger Mitt Romney on Wednesday.

Meanwhile, a Democratic source familiar with fund-raising confirmed to CNN that the Obama re-election team raised more money in September than any campaign has brought in this election cycle. According to the source, the Obama campaign is expected to exceed $150 million for the month, topping the previous record of $114 million that the president's team raised in August.

The double dose of good news followed a debate performance that was so ineffective, the Washington Post awarded Obama its dubious "Worst Week in Washington" honor.

While Obama's advisers promised adjustments in his approach to the next two debates, the president showed no sign of making any major changes to his campaign themes or messaging in the final month of the race.

Speaking Friday at George Mason University in northern Virginia, Obama laced his now familiar stump speech with new attack lines targeting specific Romney statements from the debate or in reaction to the September jobs report.

"Today's news certainly is not an excuse to try to talk down the economy to score a few political points," Obama said of the employment data and Romney's response that it failed to signal a real economic recovery.

The president then pivoted to an oft-repeated defense of his record that also took aim at his rival's pledge to cut taxes and spending while repealing major legislation such as health care and Wall Street reforms.

"This country has come too far to turn back now," Obama said, adding: "We've made too much progress to return to the policies that led to the crisis in the first place."

To Brown University political science professor Wendy Schiller, the latest jobs figures lend credence to Obama's contention that his policies are making progress, albeit slower than anyone wants.

"What these numbers do is bolster the president's credibility in making the argument that he has taken this nation on a path to recovery, and it's working," Schiller told CNN, adding that the president "will use it as evidence that he deserves another four years."

Darrel West, the vice president and director of governance studies at the Brookings Institution, said the positive jobs report was more important than the poor debate performance because "it's something that is more fundamental to the campaign."

"There's a long history of the economy affecting voting behavior," West noted in a telephone interview.

With the unemployment rate now below 8% for the first time since the month Obama was inaugurated, the president can now say "at least he's repaired the damage to the point when he came into office," West continued, adding: "Even if you have a bad current economy, if you can show forward progress, that means a lot to voters."

In the aftermath of the debate, expect Obama to also focus on what West called Romney's move from the political right to the center since naming conservative House Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan as his running mate and securing the Republican nomination.

"I think Obama has to change his strategy because Romney has changed his," West said. "When Romney put Ryan on the ticket and endorsed very conservative policies, the Obama strategy was to characterize him as an extremist who didn't represent mainstream values."

Now, West contended, "Romney has moved to the center and taken some mainstream positions, so the best argument for Obama is Romney's flip-flop on major issues."

Obama will "really emphasize the unpredictability of Romney," said Schiller, adding the idea is to ask: "Will the real Mitt Romney stand up? Can you trust him? Do you know what he's going to do next?"

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