Two days after his lackluster first debate performance, President Barack Obama's re-election hopes got a timely boost. The government's monthly jobless report for September showed the nation's unemployment rate fell below 8 percent for the first time since he took office.
If that were the only metric that mattered, the president might credibly argue that the U.S. economy was finally on the right track. Unfortunately for him, and for the American people, he can't.
Economic growth, three years into the recovery, is anemic. Family incomes are down, poverty is up. Obama's Republican challenger, Mitt Romney, highlighted these and other hard truths in this week's second debate.
Even the September jobless numbers deserve an asterisk, because more than 4 million Americans have given up looking for work since January 2009.
And while the nation's economy is still sputtering nearly four years after Obama took office, the federal government is more than $5 trillion deeper in debt. It just racked up its fourth straight 13-figure shortfall.
We have little confidence that Obama would be more successful managing the economy and the budget in the next four years. For that reason, though we endorsed him in 2008, we are recommending Romney in this race.
Obama's defenders would argue that he inherited the worst economy since the Great Depression, and would have made more progress if not for obstruction from Republicans in Congress. But Democrats held strong majorities in the House and Senate during his first two years.
Other presidents have succeeded even with the other party controlling Capitol Hill. Democrat Bill Clinton presided over an economic boom and balanced the budget working with Republicans. Leaders find a way.
With Obama in charge, the federal government came perilously close to a default last year. Now it's lurching toward another crisis with the impending arrival of massive tax hikes and spending cuts on Jan. 1.
The next president is likely to be dealing with a Congress where at least one, if not both, chambers are controlled by Republicans. It verges on magical thinking to expect Obama to get different results in the next four years.
Two years ago, a bipartisan panel the president appointed recommended a 10-year, $4 trillion deficit-reduction plan. Rather than embrace it and sell it to the American people, Obama took his own, less ambitious plan to Congress, where it was largely ignored by both parties.
Now the president and his supporters are attacking Romney because his long-term budget blueprint calls for money-saving reforms to Medicare, Medicaid and Social Security, three of the biggest drivers of deficit spending. Obama would be more credible in critiquing the proposal if he had a serious alternative for bringing entitlement spending under control. He doesn't.
Romney is not our ideal candidate for president. We've been turned off by his appeals to social conservatives and immigration extremists. Like most presidential hopefuls, including Obama four years ago, Romney faces a steep learning curve on foreign policy.
But the core of Romney's campaign platform, his five-point plan, at least shows he understands that reviving the economy and repairing the government's balance sheet are imperative - now, not four years in the future.
Romney has a strong record of leadership to run on. He built a successful business. He rescued the 2002 Winter Olympics from scandal and mismanagement. As governor of Massachusetts, he worked with a Democrat-dominated legislature to close a $3billion budget deficit without borrowing or raising taxes, and pass the health plan that became a national model.
This is Romney's time to lead, again. If he doesn't produce results - even with a hostile Senate - we'll be ready in 2016 to get behind someone else who will.
We reject the innuendo that some critics have heaped on the president. We don't think he's a business-hating socialist. We don't think he's intent on weakening the American military. We don't think he's unpatriotic. And, no, we don't think he was born outside the United States.
But after reflecting on his four years in the White House, we also don't think that he's the best qualified candidate in this race.
We endorse Mitt Romney for president.
---The views expressed are those of the Orlando Sentinel's Editorial Board. Distributed by MCT Information Services.