NASHUA, New Hampshire: Mitt Romney is touring swing states, using poor US jobs data and vowing better economic stewardship to stomp on any lift President Barack Obama received from the Democratic convention.
Making his first campaign stops Friday since holing up in Vermont for three days to practice for next month's presidential debates, Romney seized on the bad job numbers, saying the White House incumbent's policies have hurt the US economy.
"This president tried, but he didn't understand what it takes to make our economy work. I do," Romney told some 2,600 people crammed into a gymnasium in Orange City, Iowa, describing the US jobs situation as a "national tragedy."
Immediately after landing in Iowa, the Republican nominee blasted Obama for the job numbers -- just 96,000 posts were created last month and nearly four times as many people dropped out of the workforce altogether.
"That kind of report is obviously disheartening for the American people who need work and are having a hard time finding work," Romney told reporters ahead of the Orange City rally.
He claimed that Obama's acceptance speech at the Democrats' mass gathering on Thursday merely amounted to telling Americans that they could expect more of the same.
"And I don't think the American people want four more years of the four last years," the Republican said.
"They want to see more jobs, they want to see their kids coming out of college able to get jobs, they want to see rising incomes again."
Instead, the battered middle class is seeing the national debt soar past $16 trillion. And Romney warned the debt clock would reach $20 trillion under Obama's watch if voters give him the chance.
While Romney raked Obama over the coals for leading an anemic economic recovery, he faces a tricky sell in the three states he is visiting Friday and Saturday, where each has an unemployment rate well below the national average of 8.1 percent.
Iowa has a 5.3 percent jobless rate, while New Hampshire stands at 5.4 percent.
Both states, along with Virginia, which has 5.9 percent unemployment, voted for Obama in 2008, but the fact they are all in play this year is testament to the tight nature of the race.
Hoping to highlight those figures, Obama is also spending considerable time in the three states. On Friday, both candidates were campaigning in New Hampshire and Iowa, passing each other midflight above the Midwest.
Obama has also argued that his Republican predecessor George W. Bush blew out the national debt by imposing sweeping tax cuts and launching wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.
And by the time Obama took the reins, the US economy was already shedding some 800,000 jobs per month.
But he admitted that the rate of his own administration's job creation was a setback, saying "there's a lot more that we can do."
"We know it's not good enough," the president told a 6,000-strong crowd in Portsmouth, New Hampshire. "We need to create more jobs faster. We need to fill the hole left by this recession faster."
About 40 miles (64 kilometers) away in Nashua, Romney sharpened his economic argument, telling a rally with 4,000 supporters that Obama "has not taken responsibility for what has been a failure of his economic policies."
"If I become president of the United States I'm going to cut spending, we're going to get to a balanced budget, we're going to get America on economic footing," the former Massachusetts governor said.
On Saturday, Romney heads to Virginia, where he is scheduled to attend a NASCAR auto race at Richmond International Raceway.
It will be his second NASCAR race of the season, and Romney is hoping for a smoother outcome this time around.
At the Daytona 500, the multimillionaire former private equity investor infamously said that while he does not follow the races as closely as ardent fans, he is friends with several NASCAR team owners.
In what has already been a negative campaign, Romney unveiled a sweeping ad blitz across eight battleground states in a bid to persuade voters that they are not better off under Obama.
The states include North Carolina, where Obama accepted his Democratic Party's presidential nomination on Thursday.
The ad series is the first major use of a vast general election campaign war chest that Romney amassed in recent months but had been unable to spend until his nomination last week by the Republican Party.