By KEN THOMAS and NEDRA PICKLER, Associated Press
WASHINGTON (AP) — President Barack Obama got much-needed good news Friday following his disappointing debate performance as the unemployment rate dropped to its lowest level since he took office. Republican rival Mitt Romney said Obama still hasn't done enough to create jobs.
The figures announced by the Labor Department — 114,000 new jobs last month to bring unemployment to 7.8 percent — gave Obama fresh evidence to support his argument that his economic policies are working. Romney countered that the country can't afford four more years of the president's leadership and said he would lead a recovery with pro-growth policies for job creation and rising income.
"This is not what a real recovery looks like," the former Massachusetts governor said in a statement less than an hour after the jobless figures were released. He pointed to millions of people still struggling to find work, living in poverty and using food stamps to feed their families. He also argued that the rate is low in part because some people have quit looking for work.
The unemployment rate fell from 8.1 percent in August, matching its level in January 2009 when Obama became president. There is one more monthly unemployment report before Election Day, so Friday's numbers could leave a lasting impact on Americans who are already casting ballots in states that allow early voting.
The candidates were headed Friday to opposite ends of one of those early voting states, Virginia. Romney was campaigning for support in the state's far western coal country while Obama was rallying students at George Mason University in the Washington suburbs.
Obama, seeking to rebound after Romney dominated their first debate Wednesday night, is accusing his rival of being dishonest about how his policies would affect the tax bills of middle-class families and the Medicare benefits of retirees — a squabble that has even injected Big Bird into the race.
"I just want to make sure I've got this straight: He'll get rid of regulations on Wall Street, but he's going to crack down on 'Sesame Street'?" Obama said Thursday in Madison, Wis., referring to Romney's statement in the debate that he would cut a federal subsidy for PBS, which airs "Sesame Street." ''Thank goodness somebody's finally cracking down on Big Bird."
In an interview with Fox News Channel, Romney took on his disparaging comments about the 47 percent of Americans who don't pay federal income taxes, saying the remarks that have dogged his campaign for the last week were wrong.
"Well, clearly in a campaign, with hundreds if not thousands of speeches and question-and-answer sessions, now and then you're going to say something that doesn't come out right," Romney said Thursday. "In this case, I said something that's just completely wrong."
The next presidential debate is not until Oct. 16, a town hall-style meeting at Hofstra University in New York, giving both sides ample opportunities to blanket battleground states and raise money for the final weeks of television advertising.
Romney released three new ads on Friday, offering a window into his strategy for the coming week. One, called "Facts Are Clear," focuses on the national debt and accuses Obama of wasting trillions of dollars instead of creating jobs. A second spot features Greg Anthony, a former professional basketball player from Nevada, talking about his roots in that state and his switch from backing Obama in 2008 to Romney this year.