WASHINGTON/PORTSMOUTH, N.H.: A bleak monthly U.S. jobs report poured cold water on President Barack Obama's hopes for a post-convention bounce on Friday, putting him on the defensive as he entered the final two-month sprint to the Nov. 6 election.
Just hours after basking in the glow of his supporters' adulation on Thursday night at the Democratic convention in Charlotte, North Carolina, Obama was hit by a stark reminder of the challenge he faces convincing voters to give him a second term despite stubbornly high unemployment on his watch.
Jobs growth slowed more than expected in August, with nonfarm payrolls rising only 96,000, the Labor Department said. While the jobless rate dropped to 8.1 percent from 8.3 percent, it was bad news for the economy because the decline was largely due to more Americans giving up the search for work.
The grim report was likely to dim the convention afterglow for Obama, who in an impassioned speech accepting his party's nomination had appealed to Americans for more time and patience to finish his economic agenda.
Seizing on the jobs data to slam Obama's handling of the economy - the top concern of voters - his Republican challenger, Mitt Romney, called the figures "disheartening for the American people" as he arrived in Iowa for campaign events.
"If last night was the party, this morning is the hangover," the former Massachusetts governor said in a statement issued by his campaign. "It is clear that President Obama just hasn't lived up to his promises and his policies haven't worked. We aren't better off than they were four years ago."
Obama, back on the campaign trail in New Hampshire, accentuated the positive in the numbers, noting that the private sector has now generated jobs for 30 straight months. But Obama told a cheering crowd: "It's not good enough. We need to create more jobs faster."
At the same time, he pointed out that Republicans in Congress had blocked much of his jobs plan and accused Romney of making promises to revitalize the economy but not telling voters how he would do it.
Obama's nationally televised acceptance speech capped two weeks of back-to-back nominating conventions for Obama and Romney.
The address opened the last phase of a White House battle that polls show is essentially deadlocked amid deep voter anxiety about the economy, which Obama argued he had put on the road to recovery even though growth remained lackluster.
Obama offered a steady-as-you-go message that outlined priorities like creating 1 million new manufacturing jobs but provided few details on how to achieve them. He thrilled the crowd when he ended with a preacher-like crescendo. Pundits' reviews were not as glowing as they were for an address to the convention by former President Bill Clinton on Wednesday.
BACK TO CAMPAIGN TRAIL
Both candidates hit the campaign trail on the morning of the release of the August labor market report, a crucial economic indicator that had both camps waiting in suspense in a campaign dominated by the debate over job creation.
The latest jobs data could give a boost to Romney, the former head of a private equity firm who has made his business experience the centerpiece of his campaign.
He argues he is uniquely qualified to create job growth and says Obama is not up to the job. But the Obama campaign has sought to undermine Romney's argument by pointing out some firms he invested in ended up cutting jobs or shipping them overseas.
Obama, who entered office during the darkest days of the 2007-2009 recession, has brought unemployment down from a peak of 10 percent in his first year but has been unable to crack the 8 percent barrier - a fact that Romney's camp has stressed.
"This is not even close to what a recovery looks like," Paul Ryan, Romney's vice presidential running mate, told CNBC.
Obama campaign spokeswoman Jen Psaki said the Romney-Ryan approach was not the answer, saying that would mean "going back to the same policies that led us to the crisis that we've been going through to begin with."
But the unemployment data still raises doubts whether Obama will get the kind of boost that nominees traditionally get, at least initially, from their conventions. A Reuters/Ipsos online poll on Thursday, before Obama's speech, found Romney had a slim lead of 45 percent to Obama's 44 percent among likely voters.
SWING STATE TOUR
Obama and Vice President Joe Biden on Friday were in the toss-up states of New Hampshire and Iowa for joint campaign events. Romney's schedule was also taking him to those two states, which could be critical to piecing together the 270 electoral votes needed to win the White House.
They are among eight to 10 battleground states that are likely to decide the election, a list that also includes Florida, Virginia, North Carolina, Ohio, Colorado, Nevada and Wisconsin.
Those states have been flooded by tens of millions of dollars in TV ads by the campaigns, and hundreds of millions more from outside groups allied with the two candidates.
The Romney camp announced that it would release 15 new television ads on the economy, called "A Better Future," in eight states on Friday - Colorado, Florida, Iowa, Nevada, New Hampshire, North Carolina, Ohio and Virginia.
Obama used his convention speech to acknowledge the economy was not fully healed while making the case that it was on the right track and he needed another term to finish the task.
Obama also dismissed Romney and Ryan as foreign policy neophytes and mocked the Republican nominee for offending British leaders by criticizing London's handling of the Olympic Games while on an overseas trip there.
Seeking to turn the tables on Obama, Romney said on Friday he had only been speaking to the British in a straight-forward way but faulted the president for what he said was a failure to talk tough enough with China about trade and currency practices.
"The message from last night was that the president's plan is four more years of the four last years. And I don't think the American people want four more years of the four last years," Romney said.
The Obama speech in many ways failed to capture the energy and excitement of his 2008 nomination in Denver. But Democrats said they were pleased with the three-day convention, which they say could help reignite supporters' enthusiasm.
With the conventions done - Republicans met last week in Tampa, Florida - the next big event on the political calendar is the first of three presidential debates on Oct. 3 in Denver.