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Unemployment rates fall in most swing states. Why that may not help Obama.

Of nine battleground states, unemployment rates dropped in seven and held steady in two, according to the state-by-state report for September. It's good news for Obama, but he may not be able to capitalize on it.

By Ron SchererStaff writer / October 19, 2012

In this April 2012 photo, President Barack Obama speaks at Lorain County Community College in Elyria, Ohio. Unemployment rates fell or held steady in September in all 9 US swing states that are the focus of both presidential campaigns with less than three weeks left until election day.

Carolyn Kaster/AP/File

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The state-by-state unemployment numbers, released Friday, held some encouraging news for President Obama and his reelection prospects, with the jobless rate dropping in September in seven of nine electoral battleground states and rising in none. But because the rate remains relatively high in many swing states, it remains to be seen if Mr. Obama can capitalize on the improvement.

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Nationally, unemployment rates fell in 41 states and the District of Columbia from August to September, the US Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) reported, in its last look at state joblessness before the Nov. 6 election. Six states saw their unemployment rates rise, and three registered no change.

“Obviously if you are an incumbent president, you will welcome any good news, and this is good news just two weeks before the election,” says Larry Sabato of the University of Virginia’s Center for Politics. “But, and this is a big but, the vast majority of voters have already decided, so a small tick-down in their state unemployment rate is not going to change their minds.”

The issue of jobs, or lack of jobs, has been a central theme of Mr. Obama's Republican rival, Mitt Romney. Mr. Romney is campaigning hard on the message that he, as a former corporate CEO, can get the US economy humming again. Obama has been trying to highlight the economic progress made since the very steep downturn that gripped the nation when he took office in 2009.

Examined over the course of a year, unemployment rates fell in eight of the battleground states – Ohio, Florida, North Carolina, Colorado, Iowa, New Hampshire, Virginia, and Nevada. Only New Hampshire has seen its jobless rate rise over the past year.

“The question for the swing states is whether the improvement over the year is keeping up with the population growth,” says Keith Hall, a senior research fellow at George Mason University’s Mercatus Center and a former official at the BLS.

The US population is growing at about 0.8 percent per year. “Any job growth over 1 percent represents progress,” says Mr. Hall. “Many states still have a long way to go before they are full recovered.”

The swing states where unemployment rates fell the most are Florida, Nevada, North Carolina, and Ohio. Florida’s unemployment rate is 8.7 percent, down from 10.4 percent a year ago. North Carolina's dropped from 10.7 percent to 9.6 percent. Nevada is 11.8 percent, down from 13.6 percent. And Ohio's rate fell from 8.6 percent to 7 percent.

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