Susan Walsh, Associated Press
AKRON, Ohio — The presidential campaign marched into the heat of summer with a stand-pat unemployment report Friday as President Barack Obama continued on a two-day tour of a pair of hotly contested battlegrounds whose modest economic gains he hopes to leverage into a case for his re-election.
The president's travels through northeastern Ohio and western Pennsylvania came as the government issued new numbers that showed only 80,000 jobs created, leaving the jobless rate at 8.2 percent for a second month in a row. With politics and the economy closely intertwined, the numbers set a new standard from which to judge the president and for Republican rival Mitt Romney to attempt to exploit with Election Day only four months away.
Obama began the day going after votes over a little eggs and grits, taking up a stool at Ann's Place, a local restaurant. He was to address the news jobs numbers later in the morning at a school event in Ohio. Romney also planned to comment on the numbers Friday morning.
Romney remained at his New Hampshire vacation home amid growing anxiety among conservatives that he was not being aggressive enough and was squandering his opportunity to win in November. Republicans worry that Obama's attacks against Romney are taking their toll on the challenger and right-leaning leaders in business and the media is presenting a muddled case for his presidency despite a weak economy.
On his tour, Obama was promoting policies that he says have helped states such as Pennsylvania and Ohio, particularly the government bailout of Chrysler and General Motors.
"We saved an auto industry. That saved hundreds of thousands of jobs here in Ohio," Obama said in an interview with NBC affiliate WLWT in Cincinnati that was aired Friday. "We passed a health care law that's going to mean security for Ohioans."
Obama questioned Romney's motives on health care in the same interview, accusing his rival of caving under pressure from conservative commentator Rush Limbaugh for saying that requiring all Americans to buy health insurance amounts to a tax.
Romney said Wednesday the Supreme Court ruled the requirement to buy health insurance was a tax, which amounted to a shift in his position. Earlier in the week, senior adviser Eric Fehrnstrom said Romney viewed the mandate as a penalty, a fee or a fine — not a tax.
"So the question becomes, are you doing that because of politics?" Obama said. "Are you abandoning a principle that you fought for, for six years simply because you're getting pressure for two days from Rush Limbaugh or some critics in Washington?"
The jobless numbers promised to command attention Friday and determine the nature of the political debate. The unemployment and hiring figures provide monthly milestones with which to measure the human toll of the weak economic recovery.
Republicans were quick to pounce on the report, declaring that Obama's policies had failed.
"The president bet on a failed 'stimulus' spending binge that led to 41 months of unemployment above 8 percent," House Speaker John Boehner said Friday. "He bet on a government takeover of health care that's driving up costs and making it harder for small businesses to hire."
Democrats sought to capitalize on the jobs created, which at 80,000 is not enough to keep up with population growth but sustains a string of months where the private sector has increased hiring.
"With the private sector continuing to create jobs for the twenty-eighth consecutive month, our economic recovery continues to push forward," Rep. Steny Hoyer of Maryland, the second ranking Democrat in the House, said in a statement.
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