Mitt Romney charged ahead with his economic arguments in spite of unemployment dropping to its lowest level since President Barack Obama took office.
Obama was planning to spend Saturday celebrating the 20th wedding anniversary he had put aside because it fell on the day of the debate. On Sunday, Obama is scheduled to launch a lucrative and celebrity-packed fundraising swing to Los Angeles and San Francisco, a two-day trek followed by a campaign rally in ever-important Ohio on Tuesday.
With Vice President Joe Biden and Romney running mate Paul Ryan forgoing public events ahead of their own debate, on Thursday in Danville, Kentucky, Romney had the stage to himself Saturday for a campaign event near Orlando, Florida.
Aides said Romney would spend part of the day preparing for his next debate with Obama, scheduled for October 16 in Hempstead, New York before speaking at an evening rally. The president's team said Obama hasn't had any formal practice sessions since the first debate.
Romney all but ignored the latest positive jobs numbers while campaigning Friday night in Florida, instead highlighting his strong debate performance and presenting a more compassionate message as he sought to overcome Obama's narrow lead in the polls. He made it clear earlier in the day that he did not agree with the president's assessment that the unemployment statistic - it dipped from 8.1% to 7.8% in September - is a sign of an economy heading in the right direction.
"By any rational measure, it's crystal clear we're in the middle of a jobs crisis," Romney said in a fundraising message to supporters. "My priority is jobs. And from Day One of my presidency, I will lead us out of this crisis."
Obama said the creation of 114 000 jobs in September, coupled with the drop in unemployment, was "a reminder that this country has come too far to turn back now." Jabbing at his rival's plans, the president declared, "We've made too much progress to return to the policies that caused this crisis in the first place."
Widely regarded as having lost the debate Wednesday night in Denver to Romney, Obama came out with more energy and a retooled response in rallies in Colorado, Wisconsin and Ohio over the last two days.
Because the American presidential race is decided in state-by-state votes rather than by popular vote, such states that do not reliably vote either Republican or Democratic will likely decide the race.
Also on Friday, Romney brought up intimate details of friendships that had ended in death as part of a shift to present himself in more personal terms. His wife, Ann, has often talked about Romney's compassionate side, but the former Massachusetts governor rarely discusses it publicly.
At a rally in St. Petersburg, Romney recalled the time he spent with a young teenager dying of leukemia, returning to a story the boy's parents had related from the stage of the Republican National Convention.
Rooting against the economy
"I've seen the character of a young man like David, who wasn't emotional or crying. He had his eyes wide open," Romney said Friday night. "There's a saying: Clear eyes, full heart, can't lose. David couldn't lose. I loved that young man."
Obama and his surrogates plan to hammer Romney on two fronts: contending that Romney lied about his positions during the debate and criticising him as downplaying Friday's positive jobs reports. Obama advisers have long believed that Republicans risked appearing as though they were rooting against the economy for political gain.
The argument over the state of jobs comes after a Pew Research Center survey in September found only two issues rated as "very important" for more than 80% of voters: 87% rated the economy that way and 83% placed jobs in that category.
The unexpected uptick in employment could be a major benefit to Obama. A recent Associated Press-GfK poll found that the vast majority of voters already have settled on a candidate, but 17% of likely voters are considered persuadable - either because they're undecided or showing soft support for Obama or Romney. Roughly 56% of persuadables approve of the way Obama is handling his job as president, but fewer, 47%, approve of his handling of the economy.
Romney argued Friday that the change in the unemployment rate was nothing to celebrate given the millions of people in part-time jobs, those seeking better jobs and those who remain out of work. Sapa-AP