Crowley: Mood might mean more than stats come election time

South Carolina National Guardsmen, veterans and their families line up to meet employers at a job fair on January 19 in Columbia.

Story highlights

  • CNN's Candy Crowley examines what latest jobless figures might mean
  • Republicans say the unemployment rate drop isn't good enough, Crowley notes
  • Crowley says the mood of voters might trump any statistics come Election Day

Suppose they held an election, and the economy got better. Just last month, the jobless rate fell to its lowest level in almost three years.

"I wouldn't pop the champagne cork yet," Indiana Gov. Mitch Daniels, a Republican, told CBS.

The January rate? 8.3%

Presidential candidate Newt Gingrich fights stat with stat.

"Now when you include the number of people who've quit looking for work because they are convinced the Obama administration's economy is so bad they can't find a job, it jumps up to about 12%," the former House speaker said Sunday on NBC. "When you include the number of people that have part time jobs who wished they had a full time job, it's at 16% or 17%."

Employers add 243,000 jobs in January

Fall, it seems, will be a lot about crunching numbers.

"Sometimes facts are unwelcome things to the speaker and to many Republicans today," Massachusetts' Democratic Gov. Deval Patrick told NBC. "There is a way to reduce the deficit and grow the economy and continue the 23 consecutive months of job growth under the president."

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This is tricky for Republicans who will need some nuance to keep the heat on the president without looking like killjoys.

Republican National Committee Chairman Reince Priebus said he didn't want to be a "bucket of cold water" on the good economic news.

When asked whether he was rooting for a bad time, he said, "And I'm not rooting for a bad time. But then to take the leap because we've gone down, what, two- or three-tenths of 1%, to suddenly now take the leap that our country is on the right track, that spending is down, the deficits are cut in half as the president promised, the debt is not going to bury our kids and grandkids, and that we're fulfilling the American dream for middle-class Americans, I don't think that's the case."

As the economy goes, so go the president's re-election prospects. Plan B for Republicans is "Better is good, but not good enough."

In his victory speech after winning the Nevada caucuses, Republican front-runner Mitt Romney said, "Three years ago, a newly elected President Obama told America that if Congress approved his plan to borrow nearly a trillion dollars, he would hold unemployment below 8%. It hasn't been below 8% since."

One month does not a recovery make. Even the president warned about getting too gung-ho over a single month -- a point readily agreed to by economists looking through different party prisms.

"If it lasts, we'll have the best thing that anybody is able to predict -- (which) is a good, slow recovery with gradual reduction in the unemployment rate from what is admittedly a very high level," said Alice Rivlin, a senior fellow at the Brooking Institution who was director of the Office of Management and Budget in the Clinton administration.

Douglas Holtz-Eakin, chief economist on George W. Bush's Council of Economic Advisers, put it this way: "I think we got one month's good news in the labor market, that's great, but the truth is the debt is bad and the recovery is not very strong, and we have a long way to go."

In the end, both sides agree on one thing: You can cite all the stats you want, but elections are often about intangibles.

"Obviously, we'll have to wait and see, but I think we're pleased that things are ticking down and not up. But ultimately what this is about is about how people feel," Priebus said.

The Obama re-election team would agree, in part.

As one White House official put it: "We need that guy still looking for a job to believe that one is just around the corner."

      Election 2012

    • CHICAGO, IL - NOVEMBER 06:  U.S. President Barack Obama stands on stage with first lady Michelle Obama, U.S. Vice President Joe Biden and Dr. Jill Biden after his victory speech on election night at McCormick Place November 6, 2012 in Chicago, Illinois. Obama won reelection against Republican candidate, former Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney.  (Photo by Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)

      A black man is returning to the White House. Four years ago, it was a first, the breaking of a racial barrier. Tuesday night, it was history redux. And more.
    • CHICAGO, IL - NOVEMBER 06:  U.S. President Barack Obama stands on stage after his victory speech at McCormick Place November 6, 2012 in Chicago, Illinois. Obama won reelection against Republican candidate, former Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney.  (Photo by Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)

      The 2012 presidential election shattered spending records, further polarized a divided country and launched a thousand hashtags.
    • Even though voters indicated to pollsters that their financial situation is the same or worse than it was four years ago, they put their trust in the president.
    • US President Barack Obama addresses a crowd of supporters on stage on election night November 6, 2012 in Chicago, Illinois. President Barack Obama swept to re-election Tuesday, forging history again by transcending a slow economic recovery and the high unemployment which haunted his first term to beat Republican Mitt Romney. AFP PHOTO/Jewel Samad        (Photo credit should read JEWEL SAMAD/AFP/Getty Images)

      The president faces a long and familiar set of challenges after riding a wave of support from moderates, women and minorities to victory.
    • Republicans kept a lock on the U.S. House of Representatives, a crucial victory after the party failed to wrest away the presidency from Barack Obama and the Senate from the Democrats.