Friday's Labor Department report was the first to be released since Republicans began the official voting process to determine a candidate to face President Obama this fall.
Obama appears destined to face voters with the highest unemployment rate of any president running for re-election since World War II.
And that prospect was not lost on the cadre of candidates which invaded the Heartland this week, to ring in the New Year and take the first steps on the long and arduous road to November -- the Iowa Caucuses.
Lured by the first official votes in the presidential campaign, a steady stream of republican candidates focused their attention on the predominately rural state of Iowa.
Accompanied by throngs of national and international media, presidential hopefuls dropped by small-town cafes, high school gymnasiums and Fortune 500 auditoriums delivering smiles and handshakes to as many Iowans as possible.
Iowa is the world’s leader in production of several agricultural commodities, but it also has a reputation for launching underdog presidential campaigns. In 1976, a relatively unknown peanut farmer, Jimmy Carter, used the Iowa Caucus as a springboard to the White House. Despite an electorate that is more than 95 percent Caucasian, Iowa chose Barack Obama last time around.
Rick Santorum: “Game On”
This year’s out-of-nowhere story was Rick Santorum. The former Pennsylvania Senator traveled to all of the Hawkeye State’s 99 counties on a shoestring budget, parlaying the effort into runner-up status in the closest finish in Iowa Caucus history.
Former U.S. Senator Rick Santorum: “Because the message I shared with you tonight is not an Iowa message or an Iowa and South Carolina message. It is a message that will resonate across this land. It’s a resonate — it will resonate, I know, in New Hampshire.”
Riding a late surge in the polls, Santorum carried most of Iowa’s rural counties, and came within eight votes of victory. The race was so close, most political pundits considered the performance a win.
By winning most of Iowa’s urban areas, former Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney captured first place in Tuesday’s caucus, solidifying his front-runner status.
Former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney: “I think it’s great that here in the heartland of America that a campaign begins. All three of us will be campaigning very hard to make sure that we restore the heart and soul of the entire nation. And thank you, Iowa, for the great send-off you’re giving to us and to the others in this campaign. Look, this is -- this is a campaign night where America wins. We’re going to change the White House and get America back on track."