Jobs Up, Unemployment Down as Economy Continues Slow Recovery

BY Molly Finnegan  April 1, 2011 at 8:33 AM EST

Help wanted; Photo by Justin Sullivan/Getty Images

A woman walks by a help wanted sign in San Francisco last week. Photo by Justin Sullivan/Getty Images.

The Morning Line

The economy added 216,000 jobs to the payroll in March, and the unemployment rate ticked down a notch to 8.8 percent, according to reports released by the Bureau of Labor Statistics Friday morning.

The numbers slightly bested expectations and suggest that the economic recovery may be taking a firmer hold.

In February, the economy added 192,000 jobs. The solid job growth numbers for March are the best back-to-back months of job growth since the recession began.

The 8.8 percent unemployment rate is a full percentage point below the 9.8 percent rate that existed in November 2010, when Democrats took a beating at the midterm ballot box.

House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, welcomed the good economic news in a statement, but immediately pressed for more spending cuts to continue to help spur further growth.

“Any improvement in the jobs picture is welcome news for the country, but Washington needs to do more to end the uncertainty plaguing job creators,” Rep. Boehner said. “That means getting control of government spending, ending the threat of tax hikes, removing regulatory obstacles to job growth, and approving stalled trade agreements that would open new markets for American exports. These are the pillars of the Republican plan to help our economy get back to creating jobs, and it has been the focus of our new majority in the House.”

President Obama is expected to tout the strong numbers Friday after he tours a UPS facility in Landover, Md., at 12:20 p.m. ET.

CRASHING THE PARTY

The 2012 Republican primary calendar has a sense of deja vu about it — and that isn’t sitting well with the state party chairs in Iowa and South Carolina.

As it stands, the Florida primary is set for Jan. 31, 2012, which puts it at the front of the nominating calendar, ahead of the traditional first-in-the-nation Iowa caucuses and New Hampshire primaries.

Since 2008, when Florida and Michigan moved their primaries into January, the Republican National Committee has implemented rules that prohibit states other than Iowa, New Hampshire, South Carolina and Nevada from holding nominating contests before March 1, 2012.

With Tampa set to host the 2012 GOP Convention, Iowa chairman Matt Strawn and South Carolina chairwoman Karen Floyd have called on the RNC to consider stripping the city of the honor if Florida fails to comply with the party’s rules governing the nominating process.

“The contempt that Florida legislators hold not only for the RNC 2012 rules, but also for the RNC members who approved these rules, is astonishing,” Strawn said in a statement issued Thursday. “To reward this arrogance with our national convention is a great disservice to the Republican activists, donors and elected officials nationwide who support the RNC.”

“[O]ur Party stands on the precipice of our hard work being rendered meaningless, with the very real possibility looming that Florida’s Presidential Preference Primary may be held prior to March 1, in contravention of Party Rules,” Floyd wrote in a letter to RNC members. “[A]s a Party, we must send a strong message that flouting RNC rules and processes will certainly not be met with a reward so significant as the hosting of our national Convention.”

The responsibility for changing the primary date lies with Florida’s Republican-controlled legislature, but party leaders in the Sunshine State didn’t seem fazed by the threats Thursday.

“We simply want to go fifth,” Florida State Senate President Mike Haridopolos said in a statement. “As the ultimate swing state with a population reflective of the country’s demographics, Florida should have a significant role as early in the nominating process as possible.”

Florida House Speaker Dean Cannon had a more direct message: “I look forward to meeting Chairman Floyd and Chairman Strawn in Tampa next summer.”

Not all Florida Republicans are on the same page when it comes to the primary date. Freshman U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio favors the early contest, while Gov. Rick Scott has said he supports an early primary so long as it doesn’t cost the state delegates at the convention. According to party rules, Florida could see its delegate total cut in half if it goes forward with the January primary.

The intra-party squabble can’t have recently-elected RNC Chairman Reince Priebus too pleased as he tries to deal with more pressing matters like taking care of the committee’s $21 million debt and putting together a game plan for defeating President Obama next year.

MITT’S MILLIONS

Former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney posted another strong quarter in his combined state and federal PAC fund-raising. From January through March, Romney raised a total of $1.9 million and doled out $400,000 to candidates and conservative organizations.

Of course, PAC fundraising is just a meaningless appetizer at this stage of the game. Following Thursday’s opening day of baseball, Friday marks the opening day of presidential campaign fund-raising for the 2012 Republican hopefuls.

The three months running April 1 through June 30 will mark the only quarterly fund-raising period to be scrutinized by the press and the campaigns prior to the Republican Party of Iowa Straw Poll in Ames this August.

POLITICO’s Kasie Hunt and Maggie Haberman report that a top Romney campaign official suggested to donors on a conference call that the once and future presidential candidate will begin collecting checks later this month.

Romney is widely expected to be in the fundraising lead when the second quarter numbers are released in July.

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