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US Unemployment Below 8 Pct, First Time Since 2009

Arthur Nazh was not surprised to hear that the unemployment rate fell. Business has improved this year at the kiosk where he sells souvenirs at a mall in Arlington, Va.

The economy "is getting better," said Nazh, 27, who employs six people and said he plans to vote for Obama because the economy needs more time to heal. "People are starting to buy more, spend more money."

Obama and Romney campaigned Friday in Nazh's home state and others that could tip to either candidate and determine the outcome of the election. Romney released three ads, mostly focused on jobs.

"These are tough times in this community," Romney, the former Massachusetts governor, told a rally outside a construction equipment store in Abingdon, Va. "We're going to bring back jobs and bring back America."

At a campaign stop in Cleveland, Obama declared: "We are moving forward again."

"Today's news should give us some encouragement," the president told thousands at Cleveland State University. "It shouldn't be an excuse for the other side to try to talk down the economy just to try to score a few political points."

The political back-and-forth over the unemployment numbers underscored the centrality of jobs to the election after a year in which the economy has been difficult to read.

The job market got off to a strong start in 2012. Employers added an average 226,000 jobs the first three months of the year.

Hiring in January, February and March was probably even stronger than that: The Labor Department has said 386,000 more jobs were created in the year that ended in March, but it has not assigned the jobs to specific months yet.

Job growth slowed sharply to an average 67,000 a month from April through June. And the weakness appeared to have continued into the summer, raising fears that a slow and steady economic recovery was losing momentum.

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