U.S. President Barack Obama.
In this Nov. 1, 2012 file photo, President Barack Obama gestures while speaking at a campaign event at Austin Straubel International Airport in Green Bay, Wis. Photo by AP
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The final key economic report four days before the U.S. presidential election held something for both candidates Friday, showing the monthly unemployment rate ticked up slightly but created far more jobs than  expected, as voters decide between a second term for President Barack Obama or a change to Republican challenger Mitt Romney. 

With polls showing the candidates locked in one of the closest presidential  contests in recent U.S.history, Obama argues that the economy is well, if  slowly, on the road to recovery from the Great Recession. Romney disagrees, calling the jobs report a "sad reminder that the economy is at a virtual  standstill."

Obama will face voters with the highest unemployment rate of any incumbent 
since Franklin Roosevelt during the Great Depression of the 1930s.

U.S.employers added 171,000 jobs in October, and hiring was stronger over the previous two months than first thought. The unemployment rate inched up to  7.9 percent from 7.8 percent in September because the work force grew.

Unemployment remains below 8 percent, the lowest rate since Obama took office in January 2009.

While the report could attract undecided voters toward Obama in the closing 
days of the long and brutal campaign for the White House, the candidates were
expected to go into Election Day in a virtual tie.

The economy is easily the biggest issue for voters. Throughout the campaign, 
Obama has claimed credit for preventing deeper problems, reminding voters that
the economy fell into under Republican predecessor George W. Bush. Romney
argues the continued economic weakness demonstrates Obama's policy failures and says his own record as a successful businessman proves he can do better.

Friday's report came after other signs that the economy is on the mend. Most 
important, consumer confidence is up to its highest level since February of
2008, according to the Conference Board.

"We're not where we all want to end up, but we are making serious important progress moving forward," Obama senior campaign adviser Robert Gibbs said on "CBS This Morning" before the jobs report was released.

"While more work remains to be done, today's employment report provides 
further evidence that the U.S.economy is continuing to heal from the wounds
inflicted by the worst downturn since the Great Depression," said the chairman
of the president's Council of Economic Advisers, Alan Krueger.

With the new report in hand, both candidates were plunging into a hectic
pace of campaigning, with Obama eager to fend off Romney in the crucial
battleground state of Ohio. Romney pushed to expand the contest to other
states, notably Pennsylvania, to secure the 270 electoral votes needed to win.
Pennsylvania has routinely backed the Democratic standard-bearer and has been seen as reliably in the Obama column.

"It means the Romney-Ryan campaign is desperate to try to figure out how to 
win this race outside of the states that they've been contesting it in for 15
months," Gibbs said. "Look, John McCain spent the last weekend in 2008 in
Pennsylvania in a desperate attempt to do this as well."

Polls show Obama holds a slight lead in a majority of the battleground
contests where the outcome of the vote is likely to be determined. Under the
U.S. system, the nationwide popular vote does not determine the winner. Romney  and Obama are actually competing to win at least 270 electoral votes in
state-by-state contests. Those electoral votes are apportioned to states based  on a mix of population and representation in Congress.

Obama paused three days this week to manage the crisis surrounding Superstorm Sandy. Romney muted criticism of the president during those days for fear of appearing to seek political advantage while Americans were suffering, and his campaign watched awkwardly as a once-prominent Obama critic, New Jersey's Republican Governor Chris Christie, praised the president and toured storm damage with him.

Obama on Thursday scored the endorsement of New York City's popular mayor 
Michael Bloomberg, who said the storm had made the election's stakes even
clearer. Bloomberg, whose city was hit hard, said the climate is changing and
that Obama has taken major steps in the right direction on that issue.

The vote of confidence from the politically independent third-term mayor of 
America's largest city was a major boost for Obama. Both candidates had eagerly  sought the backing of Bloomberg, a former Republican who didn't endorse a  presidential candidate in 2008.