Friday’s disappointing jobs report forced President Barack Obama to confront the prospect of facing re-election amid a frail economy, with Democrats debating the best message to take to the nation’s voters.

Mr. Obama’s 2012 challenge—to convince voters he deserves another term when joblessness remains high—became more difficult on Friday, when the Labor Department reported that job growth in May was the weakest in eight months. The unemployment rate rose to 9.1%, from 9.0% in April.

Yet the president and many advisers are largely sticking with his longtime economic message: that he inherited a crisis, adopted unpopular policies that kept it from getting worse and has pointed the economy in the right direction.

Republicans, meanwhile, said Mr. Obama’s policies, rather than his messages, were the problem.

“This president continues to give speeches as if he is there for the middle class and the small businesses,” said Rep. Eric Cantor (R., Va.), the House majority leader. “But somehow the rhetoric falls short, because the actions have seemed to hinder job growth and entrepreneurial activity.”

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