President Trump enters the Labor Day kickoff of the fall campaign buoyed by an encouraging August jobs report, with Republicans saying the development offers the commander in chief a critical opportunity to overtake Democratic nominee Joe Biden.

Unemployment plummeted to 8.4%, falling below 10% on the strength of 1.4 million new hires. The development suggests the economy is recovering from the depths of a brutal, pandemic-induced recession, which would help any president embroiled in a close reelection bid. Republican strategists say that goes double for Trump.

Voters give Trump high marks for his stewardship of the economy despite dissatisfaction with other aspects of his leadership, particularly his handling of the coronavirus. An improving financial picture provides the president with a credible platform to focus attention on his strong suit.

“I still think the election revolves around who can make America normal again, and getting the economy back to normal is a big part of that,” said Scott Jennings, a Republican strategist in Kentucky. “He’s got to make the contrast, though, and explain why Biden’s economic policies would put a halt to the recovery.”

That emphasis on Trump needing to contrast his agenda with Biden’s to capitalize on positive economic trends reflects unease among Republican insiders.

For many Republican voters, Trump’s unorthodox style of communicating is an asset. But for GOP strategists working in the trenches of down-ballot campaigns, the president’s provocative rhetoric and tendency to discuss an array of issues obscures his most compelling reelection pitches and repels independents and disaffected Republicans. Unless Trump disciplines himself for the final eight weeks of the campaign and trains the spotlight on the economy, Biden could retain an advantage he accrued over the summer.

“The key for the president going forward is to frame Biden as someone who wants to raise taxes as we’re coming out of a recession, so he’s going to make things worse,” said a Republican consultant in Washington.

Even if Trump does his part, the debate over the economy might not be as clean as some Republicans envision.

To fund a variety of government programs, the former vice president is vowing to gut portions of Trump’s $1.3 trillion tax overhaul by raising income taxes on people earning more than $400,000 annually and rescinding a major reduction in the corporate tax. But Biden is framing his economic message around what he claims is Trump’s failure to lead on the coronavirus, which, in turn, he argues, exacerbated the economic devastation caused by the pandemic.

With Trump’s approval rating for his handling of the coronavirus consistently underwater since the spring, that message could prove a potent counterpunch.

“When the crisis started, we all hoped [that] a few months of a shutdown would be followed by a rapid economic turnaround. No one thought they’d lose their job for good,” Biden said Friday during a speech reacting to the August jobs report. “But that kind of recovery requires leadership — leadership we didn’t have and still don’t have.”

The Trump campaign countered with a lengthy statement that lauded the economy’s “rapid recovery” and accused Biden of relying on American hardship to win the presidency. “While Biden hopes for economic ruin to buoy his political fortunes, President Trump is leading the nation, working every day to make America great again — again,” Trump campaign spokesman Tim Murtaugh said.

The August jobs report arrived just as the president appeared to be closing the gap with Biden in a few of the swing states that will decide the election, such as Florida and Pennsylvania, although the former vice president’s lead nationally and in other battlegrounds has held.

In midterm elections two years ago, a soaring economy failed to save House Republicans from voters’ frustration with Trump. The GOP lost 40 seats and control of the chamber, plus Senate seats in two Western swing states. But with the headwinds Trump has faced recently — pandemic, recession, and civil unrest — this latest news on the economy could be a difference-maker, just as the perception of improving financial fortunes helped President Barack Obama in 2012.

“How much it helps politically is going to have more to do with those economic shots in the arm happening and being felt in the 10 states that are going to decide who wins this race,” said Nick Everhart, a Republican strategist in Ohio, where Trump is headed next week to campaign.

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