WASHINGTON: President Barack Obama planned to build on an impressive fundraising haul Sunday, launching a lucrative and celebrity studded trip to California a day after Mitt Romney ticked off examples suggesting that news of a drop in unemployment has not reversed what ails the nation.
Romney rallied in battleground Florida on Saturday, the day after the government reported an unemployment rate of 7.8 percent in September, breaking a 43-month streak of joblessness of 8 percent or higher. The report risked breaking Romney's stride, gained in a strong debate performance days earlier.
Because the American presidential race is decided in state-by-state votes rather than by popular vote, such "battleground" states that do not reliably vote either Republican or Democratic will likely decide the race.
The president was scheduled to launch a lucrative and celebrity-studded fundraising swing to Los Angeles and San Francisco on Sunday and Monday followed by a campaign rally in battleground Ohio.
"There is exactly one month left to go until Election Day," Obama campaign manager Jim Messina said in an email pitch. "The stakes are too high for us to take our foot off the gas now."
Persistently high unemployment, long after the recession's official end, has been a leading threat to Obama's re-election and the improvement came as a marked relief to the Obama campaign and a tricky development for his Republican rival.
Romney told an evening rally in Apopka, Florida, that with poverty, the food-stamp rolls and gas prices up, incomes down, college graduates struggling to find work and millions of people who've lost jobs no longer trying to get new ones, it's clear Obama doesn't know how to fix the economy. "I know how, and I will get the job done."
Bolstered by the Democratic National Convention, Obama and his party Saturday reported a combined take of $181 million for September, their best fundraising month of the campaign and just short of their record of $190 million in the 2008 campaign, also in September. Romney's campaign has not released its report for the month yet.
Obama took time off Saturday for a 20th anniversary celebration with his wife, Michelle, postponed from the day of the first presidential debate last week. They dined at Bourbon Steak in the Georgetown section of Washington. Romney devoted time to preparing for the next debate, Oct. 16 in Hempstead, New York, before his rally.
But the money machine was grinding relentlessly. Republican running mate Paul Ryan scheduled an evening fundraiser in Milwaukee, Wis., and neither party let up in their appeals for cash for the frantic final weeks ahead. Ryan and Vice President Joe Biden go head-to-head in a debate Thursday in Danville, Kentucky.
Republicans and Romney himself have seemed invigorated by his spirited leadoff debate performance against a subdued president, which played out for a huge national TV audience, estimated at more than 67 million, just as voters at-large are tuning in to the campaign.
But then came the jobless report Friday. Obama seized on the good news, "a reminder that this country has come too far to turn back now," while Romney had little choice but to play down its significance.
"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.
Defensive after the debate, Democrats contended Romney talked a good game but at the expense of the truth. A new TV ad by the Obama campaign, called "Dishonest," carries on the post-debate theme that Romney grossly misrepresented his own positions as well as Obama's on taxes. Online videos were posted by the campaign with the mantra, "Romney won't tell the truth," about Medicare, energy, taxes and more.
The latest fundraising report showed Obama and the Democratic National Committee improving on their take of about $114 million in August, when Obama gained a narrow edge in the money race after trailing Romney and Republicans for three straight months.