Polls suggest President Barack Obama holds only a small, perhaps meaningless, lead over Republican rival Mitt Romney in the race for the White House as he awaits a new jobs report.
With unemployment remaining high, Mr Obama and Mr Romney are running neck and neck with no sign that either can break away, as the race enters a final summer lull before the sprint to election day in November.
Both candidates are taking a break this week, which includes the July 4 holiday, with Mr Romney at his lakeside compound in New Hampshire and Mr Obama at the Camp David presidential retreat in Maryland.
“When it’s a two or three-point race, that’s not good for an incumbent president,” said Republican strategist Rich Galen, who is not affiliated with Mr Romney’s campaign.
“Obama’s political career is totally dependent on Angela Merkel holding the eurozone together,” he said, referring to the German chancellor and Europe’s financial woes, which could further hurt the US economy.
An eventful June began badly for Mr Obama. Poor job creation numbers followed news that Mr Romney’s campaign was raising more money than his. Things got worse when Mr Obama told reporters “the private sector is doing fine” – a line now featured in countless Republican attack adverts.
Mr Obama was trying to contrast the private sector, which has seen steady but modest job growth, with the public sector, where budget cuts have led to teachers, police officers and other government employees made redundant.
The month ended better for the Democratic president. The US Supreme Court struck down much of Arizona’s strict anti-illegal immigration law, which his administration had opposed. Then the justices upheld Mr Obama’s signature health care overhaul last week.
“Last week was a reminder to the American people of who the president is fighting for,” said Obama spokeswoman Jen Psaki.
“But we’re looking ahead, and we know this race is going to be really close,” she added.
Mr Obama starts a two-day bus tour of Ohio and Pennsylvania, two crucial battleground states that could go either way in the state-by-state contests that decide the election, on Thursday.
Meanwhile, he needs money to compete with Mr Romney. In a leaked recording of a conference call Mr Obama recently placed from Air Force One to top donors from his 2008 campaign, he implored them to match their earlier generosity.
The two campaigns, including their allied political action committees, are matching each other nearly dollar for dollar on TV ads in Florida, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Nevada, Virginia and New Hampshire. Mr Romney’s forces are out-spending Mr Obama’s in Iowa and Michigan. The opposite is true in Colorado.
Summer holidays and the Olympics might distract voters for the next few weeks, and political and legal activists might keep arguing over health care and immigration. But Mr Romney is staking his candidacy on the claim that Mr Obama has failed on the economy.
The economy will remain the top issue through election day, said Dan Schnur, a former Republican adviser who teaches political science at the University of Southern California.
An election that seems destined to be tight will largely turn on voters’ gut feelings about job security, the government’s role in boosting or hindering employment, and candidates’ visions for the nation’s role in a global economy.