PORTSMOUTH, N.H. -- Their conventions behind them, President Barack Obama and Republican challenger Mitt Romney bore down Friday on the drive to November, trading barbs from key swing states on a day when a disappointing new jobs report underscored the economic anxiety that punctuates the election.
Mr. Obama dashed from the Democratic National Convention in Charlotte, N.C., to New Hampshire and then Iowa, looking to build enthusiasm in key states with first lady Michelle Obama at his side along with Vice President Joe Biden and his wife, Jill.
"Now that both sides have made their argument, there's a big choice to make," Mr. Obama told an estimated 6,000 people at Portsmouth's Strawbery Banke Museum, casting the election as a choice between "two different paths for America."
Mr. Romney returned to the campaign trail after a weeklong hiatus during Mr. Obama's convention, rallying supporters in Orange City, Iowa, before heading to New Hampshire later in the day. He urged voters to see Mr. Obama's convention speech the day before as a litany of promises unlikely to be fulfilled.
"It was a whole series of new promises that he also won't be able to keep," Mr. Romney said. "We would have four more years of the last four years, and the American people are going to say no to that."
The two rivals grappled as a report Friday showed that the struggling economy added just 96,000 jobs in August. Worse, it showed that 368,000 people had stopped looking for work, sending the share of the workforce either working or actively looking for jobs to its lowest level since September 1981.
Mr. Obama acknowledged that although U.S. businesses added jobs for the 30th month in a row, "that's not good enough."
"We need to create more jobs, faster," he said, then blamed Republicans for blocking his proposed package of new spending, a proposal his administration says would create 1 million jobs.
His vision, he said, is of an America that invests in education, research and development, and believes in "the idea that we have some obligations to each other and that when we work together, we all do better." Republicans, he said, want to eliminate regulations, cut taxes for the wealthiest and believe that government, "because it can't do everything, somehow should almost do nothing."
Mr. Obama argued that it's his opponents who have no new ideas, charging that the Republican solution to every problem is a tax cut: "Tax cuts when times are good, tax cuts when times are bad," he said. "Tax cuts to help you lose a few extra pounds, tax cuts to improve your love life. It'll cure anything, according to them."
He contended that he backs tax cuts and has signed them "for people who need it," but opposes them for the wealthiest. "I do not believe that another round of tax breaks for millionaires is what's going to bring good jobs back to our shores, or pay down our deficit," he said.
The president said the economy's woes have been "building up over decades," and that it will take "more than a few years" to solve them.
Mr. Romney used the jobs report to paint Mr. Obama as a failure, calling the sluggish growth in jobs "simply unimaginable."
"This president tried," he said. "But he didn't understand what it takes to make our economy work. I do."
Mr. Romney, who spoke in Iowa just moments after Mr. Obama finished his New Hampshire rally, was heading next to New Hampshire, while Mr. Obama and the Bidens left New Hampshire for an evening rally in Iowa City.
It's a pattern likely to be repeated over the next two months, as the two campaigns focus their attention on voters in the eight to 10 swing states that could decide the election. Mr. Obama today kicks off a two-day bus trip across Florida before returning to the White House.
Mr. Romney's campaign didn't wait for the candidate to hammer the president, releasing ahead of both candidates' appearances 15 new television ads tailored to eight of the battleground states, hitting Mr. Obama's record on jobs, defense and regulations.
In New Hampshire, Mr. Obama pushed voters to get to the polls. "We're going to have to work because this is going to be a close election," he told supporters. "Only you can make sure that we don't go backwards. Only you have the power to move us forward."
Obama senior strategist David Plouffe told reporters that the campaign believes that it picked up momentum from the convention and "increased our turnout dynamics."
He said he didn't think either convention did much to shake up what has been a whisker-close race, with Mr. Obama showing a slight edge in most of the battleground states. "Our suspicion is the race is going to be about where it was," Mr. Plouffe said. "And that's a problem for Mitt Romney."
First Published September 8, 2012 4:00 AM