Fresh US growth figures to be unveiled Friday will frame the crucial first steps of a general election race that could hinge on voters\' notions about the economy. Early on Friday US officials\' will take their first guess at how fast the world\'s largest economy grew in the first quarter of 2012. The broadest gauge of the US economy, it is keenly awaited by economists, policymakers and investors looking to gauge whether the recovery is still airborne. But this time around, President Barack Obama\'s campaign headquarters in Chicago and Mitt Romney\'s HQ in Boston will also be on tenterhooks. For both the stakes are high: consistently half of all voters tell pollsters the economy will be the single biggest issue in November. Yet Friday\'s data alone will not decide who wins the White House in November. In the past, GDP growth has been an awful gauge of electoral fortunes. Dwight Eisenhower won reelection by a landslide with two percent growth, while Richard Nixon turfed out the Democrats with growth close to five percent. But it is released just as an economy-soaked battle for the presidency is joined, and is likely to color the opening exchanges of both general election campaigns. Romney, fresh from overwhelming the last of his Republican rivals, will hope that whatever the figure, Americans\' view of how the economy has been managed will not change much. \"Three-quarters of Americans think we are still in recession, and time is getting short to change their minds,\" said Matt McDonald, a consultant at Hamilton Place Strategies and an outside adviser to the Romney campaign. \"I think the impact of economic headlines is starting to diminish.\" Meanwhile Obama, who has penciled in his first campaign rallies for early May, will hope to build on growth that has seen GDP rise from 0.4 percent to three percent within a year. Whatever the outcome, both sides will spin the figure to suit their needs. But should growth fall under two percent, Obama\'s campaign would face a stiff challenge. Similarly anything approaching three percent would be a shot in the arm and an opportunity to convince voters the recovery is firmly on track. Economists\' predictions about what the figure might be are as mixed as their views about the recovery itself. In recent days, data showing weak orders for long-lasting goods and a jump in shipping have sent mixed messages. \"The economy is not booming, but the current expansion is looking increasingly more sustainable,\" said Joseph LaVorgna of Deutsche Bank. Macroeconomic Advisors, which runs one of the most widely respected economic models, predicts that growth was close to 3.2 percent in the quarter. Meanwhile economists at Mizuho, a global bank based in Japan predict, a 2.5 percent rate, in line with the Wall Street consensus.