By Matt McDonald, (202) 822-1205,

There is a saying in legal circles: “If you have the law, go with the law. If you have the facts, go with the facts. And if you don’t have the law and you don’t have the facts, bang on the table.”

Updated for campaigns, the saying would be: “If you have a strong record, run on the record. If you have a strong plan, run on the plan. And if you don’t have a strong record and you don’t have a strong plan, attack the other guy.”

This is the economic dilemma the President faces today. The record on job creation has been weak. The plan to boost job creation was the stimulus, and the policy options remaining are thus far tactical and limited. Even the traditional Presidential sport of blaming Congress for obstructing proposals won’t resonate because of the supermajorities he commanded during his first two years.

What’s left is framing the election as a choice and painting the other choice as unacceptable through a traditional negative campaign. Over the past several weeks we have seen Obama advisors David Axelrod and Robert Gibbs rolling out this time-tested playbook.

It is still possible that the economy and job creation will significantly improve between now and Election Day. Everyone will be watching tomorrow’s job number to see if there are signs of life. After last month’s weak jobs report, the number of jobs required for the economy to drop below eight percent by Election Day has increased from 209,000 last month to 217,000 this month.

With five months of data in the books for 2011 and another set of data coming Friday, we can also start to look at trend lines for the year. In the household survey, we’ve had an average of 115,000 jobs per month created between January and May. If we look at the employer survey, the average has been 157,000 per month.

Assume for a moment that the higher of these two is correct and that this trend continues. If we create 157,000 every month between now and Election Day, the unemployment rate will be about 8.6 percent. This is in the neighborhood of CBO’s projection of 8.2 percent unemployment at the end of 2012 and the Administration’s own 2012 estimate of 8.6 percent, both made at the beginning of this year. It is slightly above the most recently downgraded Federal Reserve estimate of eight percent.

With unemployment trending toward an Election Day rate in the mid-eight percent range, the nascent negative campaign strategy we are seeing from Obama 2012 may not be the campaign they wanted to run, but it is the best one available and it could still get him across the finish line for a second term.

This month’s jobs day happens to coincide with the end of the second quarter of fundraising numbers. A billion dollars in fundraising can smooth over a lot of bumps in the road and cause a lot of bumps for the President’s eventual opponent. It will be interesting to see if the President’s fundraising machine is up to the task ahead and which of the GOP hopefuls can demonstrate they are able to run with the big dog.

Matt McDonald is a partner at Hamilton Place Strategies and a veteran of two Presidential campaigns and the White House. Prior to joining HPS, Matt worked for McKinsey and Company. He holds an MBA from MIT’s Sloan School of Management and an undergraduate degree in economics from Dartmouth College.