Republican White House hopeful Mitt Romney pounced Friday after weaker than expected jobs data cast doubt on the health of the economic rebound that President Barack Obama hopes to ride to reelection.
"It is increasingly clear the Obama economy is not working and that after three years in office the president's excuses have run out," Romney said, hitting a theme underpinning his bid to evict Obama after a single term.
Economists had expected the economy to power ahead in March and create upwards of 200,000 jobs, amid signs that the recovery is finally becoming self sustaining after a sluggish bounce back from the worst recession in decades.
But the Labor Department figures showed that the economy only pumped out 120,000 jobs last month, though the unemployment rate did dip from 8.3 percent to 8.2 percent -- a three-year low.
While monthly unemployment reports can fluctuate and are prone to substantial revision, the figures will revive worries in the White House about a recovery that is directly linked to Obama's hopes of reelection in November.
Romney knows his best chance of unseating Obama lies in his argument that as a "conservative businessman" he understands the economy and knows how to create jobs, so he seized on the opportunity to paint Obama as a man out of ideas.
"This is a weak and very troubling jobs report that shows the employment market remains stagnant," Romney said in a statement.
"Millions of Americans are paying a high price for President Obama's economic policies, and more and more people are growing so discouraged that they are dropping out of the labor force altogether," said Romney.
That theme is sure to dominate Romney's campaign rhetoric in coming days, as he turns his sights on Obama while trying to wrap up the drawn out Republican nominating contest, in which he now has a prohibitive lead.
John Boehner, the Republican speaker of the House of Representatives, who hopes to bolster his majority in November's election, also weighed in with a harsh critique of Obama's economic policies.
"Unemployment is far too high, paychecks are shrinking, gas prices are rising faster than ever, and our debt now exceeds the size of our entire economy," Boehner said in a statement.
"Today's report shows that families and small businesses are still struggling to get by because of President Obama's failed economic policies."
Washington remains deadlocked over the best way to promote economic growth and job creation -- and most of the president's plans have fizzled on Republican opposition.
Monthly jobs numbers between now and the November 6 election will take on huge political importance.
Lingering uncertainty about the state of the economy revealed by the data explains why Obama's campaign team believes the election will still be tight, despite the president's current moderate lead over Romney in opinion polls.
Obama on Friday put the most positive spin possible on the figures, though acknowledged that many Americans were still suffering.
"We welcome today's news that our businesses created another 121,000 jobs last month and the unemployment rate ticked down," Obama said at a White House forum dedicated to the role of women in the economy.
"Our economy has now created more than four million private sector jobs over the past two years and more than 600,000 in the past three months alone.
"But it's clear to every American that there will still be ups and downs along the way and that we've got a lot more work to do."