Obama's pleasant October surprise

Man demonstrates for good jobs in Charlotte, North Carolina 3 September 2012
Unemployment is considered to be a key issue in the presidential election

The president had some good news at the end of a bad week

"This morning, we found out that the unemployment rate has fallen to its lowest level since I took office."

After his lame debate performance, he sounded as if he'd rediscovered his mojo, and there was steel in his voice.

The Bureau of Labor statistics report is indeed welcome for the president saying that unemployment dropped to 7.8% in September with 114,000 new jobs created.

The internet is alive with blast and counter-blasts. Some say this will change the campaign, others that these jobs figures, so eagerly awaited by us hacks, have no impact on the race.

What changes?

To listen to some people you would think nothing has an impact on the election. The fact is perceptions are changed slowly, by a drip, drip, drip of information and persuasion. Only truly exceptional moments change an election campaign overnight.

This is not one of those moments. But it is significant.

Unemployment was below 8% when the president came to office. It rose to 10.2% later that year. But this is the first time it has dropped below 8% in 44 months.

It has been central to the Republican message that it is Mr Obama's fault that the recovery has not been quicker and stronger. They won't stop making that case.

Mitt Romney, at a rally in Virginia on Thursday, said that the real figure, including people who have stopped looking for work, is 11%.

His campaign picked up on the reports that found the manufacturing sector lost 16,000 jobs last month.

It said in a statement: "Today's sluggish jobs report reinforced what Americans already knew - we can't afford another four years like the last four years. Manufacturing is in decline and 23 million Americans are still struggling for work".

But the news does matter. This is what it does:

It stops the media talking about Mr Obama's bad debate, the story has moved on.

It stops any narrative that things are going wrong for Mr Obama - imagine if unemployment had gone up, on top of the debate.

It robs Mitt Romney of an easy campaign point about unemployment staying over 8% under Mr Obama, but not his overall economic argument.

It suggests the economy is heading in the right direction, albeit very slowly - it makes Mr Obama's stewardship of the economy look a bit better, although there is plenty of room to argue about that.

It doesn't change the general view that the American economy is recovering, but growth is very slow, and jobs are only coming back very slowly too.

Not sensational game-changing news for Mr Obama, but good news for him none the less, and at the very least a relief.