The U.S. presidential election campaign entered a new phase Friday with both major party candidates fanning out across the country in the aftermath of this week's Republican convention.
Fresh from a boost from fellow Republicans at the party convention in New York, President Bush took his re-election campaign to the pivotal state of Pennsylvania, a prime target for both the president and his Democratic opponent, John Kerry.
Mr. Bush did get some good economic news Friday. The Labor Department said 144,000 new jobs were created last month, the biggest gain since May.
The president was quick to seize on the new report at a rally in Scranton, Pennsylvania.
"The unemployment rate is now down to 5.4 percent," said George W. Bush. "That is nearly a full point below the rate last summer and below the average of the 1970's, 1980's and 1990's. The unemployment rate in Pennsylvania is 5.3 percent. Our growing economy is spreading prosperity and opportunity, and nothing will hold us back."
Senator Kerry took issue with the president's economic record as he campaigned in neighboring Ohio, also a key swing state in the November election.
The Massachusetts senator said even with the latest job gains, Mr. Bush is still on track to become the first president since the 1930s to record a net loss of jobs during his term.
"The latest jobs numbers have come out for the last month, 144,000 jobs [created]," said John Kerry. "At that rate, you won't have a net new job created in the state of Ohio until 2011. John Edwards and I have a plan to put America back to work now, not 10 years from now."
Friday's campaign news was overshadowed by word that former President Bill Clinton will have to undergo heart bypass surgery after complaining of chest pains in recent days. Both Senator Kerry and President Bush offered best wishes for a speedy recovery for the former president.
Senator Kerry had been counting on Mr. Clinton to campaign extensively on his behalf right up until the election on November 2.