Mark Zandi, chief economist at Moody's Analytics, said the officials with the biggest influence over the short-term fate of the economy are in Europe, struggling with a debt crisis and in China, struggling with a slowdown.
"The Europeans have to figure out a way to keep Greece in the eurozone, at least for the next six to 12 months," he said.
The worry is that a disorderly Greek exit from the eurozone could cause a loss of investor confidence and risk a spread of weakness to Spain. "The Spanish banks have announced more loan losses and it is clear they don't have sufficient capital reserves to cover those losses and it is not clear where they are going to get that capital," Zandi said.
The risk is a crisis akin to the one that froze the U.S. banking system in 2008, feeding the worst economic downturn since the Great Depression.
If there is little that can be done to affect the economy itself in the short-term, there's plenty of competition to shape public sentiment.
"This crisis has been going on for 40 months," Romney said told CNBC on Friday. "The job of the president is to get America back to work."
But while Romney tries to make the election a referendum on Obama, Democrats have different ideas.
"The natural state of a presidential election is to be a referendum on the incumbent. ... The natural strategy of the incumbent in this case is to turn it from a referendum to a choice," said Mark Mellman, a pollster who works for Democrats.
Obama's campaign has invested heavily in advertising in about a dozen pivotal states, attacking Romney's claim that his business experience qualifies him to lead the economic recovery.
In some of the states, North Carolina and Nevada among them, unemployment is higher than the national average. In others, including Iowa and Ohio, it is lower. In many, the polls are close, mirroring the national surveys.
AP Economics Writer Martin Crutsinger contributed to this report.
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