CHARLOTTE, N.C. -- A dismal new snapshot of jobs in America shadowed the presidential campaign Friday, testing the voter patience that will save or sink President Barack Obama's re-election bid. Seizing on the timing, Republican Mitt Romney said Obama's convention party had given way to quite a "hangover."
Employers added 96,000 jobs in August, not nearly enough to seriously dent unemployment. Even the good news -- the unemployment rate dropped from 8.3 percent to 8.1 percent -- was attributed to job-hunters just giving up.
"We're going in the wrong direction," Romney declared, a view echoed by a majority of Americans still reeling from a massive recession.
Obama put the emphasis on a trend showing employers have added jobs for 30 months in a row now. He did so with a nod to public frustration.
"We know it's not good enough," Obama said, dealing with the downbeat news mere hours after his confetti-flying Democratic National Convention. "We need to create more jobs, faster."
With 60 frenetic days left until the election, the economic report was not grim enough to alter the political narrative of a consistently tight race. Yet the attention it commanded eroded any hope of a post-convention boost for Obama.
Instead, it underlined his point that economic recovery will not be "quick or easy."
No president has won re-election with unemployment over 8 percent since Franklin D. Roosevelt, and Obama has embraced that Great Depression comparison, hoping to show why he and the nation need more time.
Their conventions behind them and their debates just ahead, Obama and Romney sprinted into the next phase of campaign, targeting eight or so toss-up states. The two men headed the same way Friday, appearing in Iowa and New Hampshire, two states with small but potentially decisive electoral prizes.
"Tax cuts. Tax cuts. Cut some more regulations. Oh, and more tax cuts," Obama told the thousands in New Hampshire. "Tax cuts when times are good. Tax cuts when times are bad. Tax cuts to help you lose a few extra pounds. Tax cuts to help you improve your love life. It'll cure anything."
Romney was biting as well. On repeated occasions, he challenged Obama's competency, lumping together the jobs report and Obama's prime-time convention address.
"There was nothing in the speech that gives confidence that the president knows what he's doing when it comes to jobs," Romney told Fox News.