FAIRFAX, Va. (AP, ABC7) - President Barack Obama celebrated much-needed good economic news Friday as the unemployment rate dropped to its lowest level since he took office.
"We are moving forward again," he boasted. Republican rival Mitt Romney retorted the president still hasn't done enough to help millions of people who are out of work.
The figures announced by the Labor Department - 114,000 new jobs last month to bring the unemployment rate to 7.8 percent - gave Obama fresh evidence on the heels of his disappointing debate performance to argue that his economic policies are working.
Romney countered that the country can't afford four more years of the president's leadership and argued that the rate is low in part because some people have quit looking for work.
"This is not what a real recovery looks like," the former Massachusetts governor said in a statement shortly 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 said he would lead a recovery with pro-growth policies for job creation and rising income.
Obama responded that Romney wants to roll back policies that are repairing the economic damage.
"Today's news certainly is not an excuse to try to talk down the economy to score a few political points," Obama said. "It is a reminder that the country has come too far to turn back now."
The unemployment rate fell from 8.1 percent in August, matching its level in January 2009 when Obama became president.
The president says despite losing about 800,000 jobs a month when he took office, we've added 5.2 million new jobs over the past two and a half years
Romney says that if you include all those who've stopped looking for work and true unemployment would be closer to 11 percent.
"If you just give up, and say 'look I can't go back to work, I'm just going to stay home,' if just you drop out altogether, why you're no longer part of the employment statistics,” Romney says.
Outside the president's rally, Romney surrogates, tried to counter this seemingly good news.
“If president Obama wants to celebrate an economy where one in six Americans is in poverty, where 23 million Americans are unemployed or under-employed, he can do that but I just don't think that's what Americans are feeling right now," says Curt Cashour.
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 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 focused on recruiting women at an appearance in the Washington suburbs, where he argued that his health care policy has improved their health care choices.
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.
He told an audience at George Mason University that his rival "got an extreme makeover" in their face-off. He also argued Romney can't bring change to the country when he's "willing to write off half the nation before you take office," a reference to Romney's disparaging remarks about the 47 percent of Americans who don't pay federal income taxes.
Romney made the comments at a fundraiser in May that was secretly recorded, but the videotape did not emerge until last month. Romney went as far as he's ever gone to try to take back his words in an interview Thursday night with Fox News.
"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."
At the White House, senior adviser David Plouffe retorted: "I would take with a huge grain of salt trying to clean something up five months after you said it for the first time."
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.
Obama also was campaigning in Ohio on Friday. Obama was holding a Friday rally in Cleveland before heading to California on Sunday for a fundraising spree that will include a concert in Los Angeles featuring Jon Bon Jovi, Katy Perry and Stevie Wonder.
Traveling aboard Air Force One, Plouffe foreshadowed an intense focus on Ohio in the coming weeks, where polls have shifted in Obama's favor.
No Republican has won the presidency without winning Ohio, and Obama's campaign sees blocking Romney there as one of its best paths to victory.
Plouffe said the true measure of the first debate was whether it moved voters in the battleground states.
Speaking of Romney, Plouffe said: "Is he going to take the lead in Ohio? If he doesn't, he's not going to be president," he said.