Eager to change the subject after a dismal jobs report, President Barack Obama tried to rekindle some of the enthusiasm of his 2008 campaign with a bus tour through a must-win swath of Florida, urging supporters not to "buy into the cynicism that somehow the change we fought for isn't possible."
Meanwhile, Republican candidate Mitt Romney faulted both his own party in Congress and Obama for exposing the armed forces to huge spending cuts.
Obama, speaking to a crowd of 11,000 at the Seminole campus of St. Petersburg College, gave Florida residents a populist plea not to "turn away now."
"If you give up the idea that your voice can make a difference," Obama said, "then other folks are going to fill the void: the lobbyists, the special interests, the people who are writing $10 million checks, the folks who are trying to keep people from voting" in the Nov. 6 election.
Campaigning in a state where the 8.8 percent jobless rate tops the U.S.¬ national average, the president made no mention of Friday's government report showing a weak employment outlook for America. But he urged people to help him "finish what we started," and he put creating more jobs at the top of his to-do list.
The president called on people to rally behind "real, achievable goals that will lead to new jobs and more opportunity."
Romney, campaigning in military-dependent Virginia, was determined to keep the spotlight on the weak jobs outlook, laid out in the latest Labor Department report on unemployment. It was the first topic he raised in an appearance before a flag-waving audience of 4,000 in a hanger at the private Military Aviation Museum, vintage aircraft on display around him.
"This is not the kind of news that the American people are hoping for and deserve," he said. Then he projected forward to a Romney presidency to add: "I'm here to tell you that things are about to get a lot better."
Speaking in the Navy town of Virginia Beach, where many jobs are tied to defense, Romney criticized the president both for past cuts to military spending and "unthinkable" potential reductions threatened under a series of automatic, across-the-board cuts that will take effect if Congress doesn't reach a budget solution in the next few months. Half of the cuts are set to come from the Pentagon under a deal negotiated between Obama and Republican leaders in Congress.
"I think it was a mistake for Republicans to go along with it," Romney said in an interview taped for Sunday's broadcast of "Meet the Press" on NBC. On the stage, he'd only blamed the president for the defense cuts.
Obama has opposed the depth of the cuts but has said congressional Republicans need to adopt a plan that includes increases in revenue.
Romney called the potential cuts "unthinkable to Virginia, to our employment needs. But it's also unthinkable to the ability and the commitment of America to maintain our liberty. ... If I'm president, we'll get rid of the sequestration cuts and rebuild America's military might."
From Virginia Beach, Romney headed for NASCAR stock-car racing territory, prime ground for working-class white voters. He planned to attend the Federated Auto Parts 400 at Richmond International Raceway.
In Florida, Obama is on his third campaign bus tour since July after earlier road trips in Ohio and Iowa. The bus tours attract significant media attention in the states and allow Obama to engage with local voters in unscheduled stops in the small towns that he can't reach by only flying on Air Force One.
At Obama's second rally of the day, before 3,000 people in Kissimmee, he had a ready answer to Romney's complaints about defense cuts. "As long as I'm commander in chief, we will sustain the strongest military the world has ever known," he said. He said he would use some of the money that had been used fight wars for rebuilding schools and roads and bridges. There is actually no such leftover pot of money because the wars were fought primarily by borrowing.
Romney's campaign announced Saturday it was showing a new Spanish-language ad in Florida that reinforces his argument that Obama is a decent man, but incapable of leading a more robust economic recovery. "He looks like a nice guy, but that doesn't get us jobs," a man says.
A political group supporting Obama released an ad criticizing Romney for policies that it says would increase the tax burden on middle-income families. The ad by Priorities USA Action, a so-called super political action committee, is showing in Colorado, Florida, Iowa, Ohio, Virginia and Wisconsin.
Want to enjoy 'Zen' reading - with no ads and just the article? Subscribe todaySubscribe now