AN encouraging October jobs report may give US President Barack Obama an 11th-hour campaign boost, but perhaps more importantly it denies Republican challenger Mitt Romney an opportunity to put an exclamation point on his argument that Mr Obama failed to turn around the economy.
US employers added 171,000 people to their payrolls last month, significantly higher than the 125,000 figure analysts had expected.
The jobless rate edged up a 10th of a point to 7.9pc, due to workers surging back into the labour force.
Yesterday's Labour Department report was more modest than last month's stunning figure that pushed the unemployment rate down to 7.8pc from 8.1pc, the lowest since 2009.
That fall was such a boost to Mr Obama ahead of the November 6 election that it spawned some quickly discredited conspiracy theories, including from former General Electric chairman Jack Welch, that the White House had manipulated the job figures for political gain.
This time around, the figure was neither so good nor all that bad, giving Republicans little to work with, although they did stick with the message that this is not what a real recovery looks like.
Mr Romney called the uptick in the unemployment rate a "sad reminder" that the economy continues to struggle, and said that, as president, he would "make real changes that lead to a real recovery".
The White House said data showing hiring increased in October proved that the economy was on the mend, and stressed the need to re-elect Mr Obama next Tuesday.
Analysts said the report would likely help Mr Obama.
"The October report . . . confirmed a narrative that the economy is expanding moderately," Greg Valliere, chief political strategist at Potomac Research Group, said in a note to clients.
Mr Romney's odds of victory fell -- and Mr Obama's odds for re-election rose -- on the Intrade prediction market after the jobs report. Early yesterday, traders saw a 32.5pc chance of Mr Romney winning, down 4.4pc from Thursday's close.
They put the chances of an Obama victory at 67.6pc, up 1.5pc from Thursday.
"This jobs report couldn't have come at a better time for the president," said Jim Kessler, senior vice-president for policy at Third Way, a centrist Democratic think-tank.
If one candidate had a solid lead, a middling unemployment report might not make a difference this late in the campaign.
But this year, with opinion polls showing a deadlocked race and about 7pc of voters still undecided, it could tilt the race even if only a fairly small number of people are paying attention.
"This is such a tight race. Everything matters," Republican strategist Ford O'Connell said. "Anything that pushes one or two people out there, that benefits either candidate."