Charles Dharapak, Associated Press
President Barack Obama and Republican presidential candidate and former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney talk at the end of the first presidential debate in Denver, Wednesday, Oct. 3, 2012.
FISHERSVILLE, Va. — Republican Mitt Romney is trying to ride a wave of momentum from a strong debate performance against President Barack Obama and reset the presidential campaign as the government releases new unemployment data providing the latest update on the nation's economy.
Obama, seeking to rebound from a subpar debate performance, is accusing Romney of being dishonest about how his policies would affect the tax bills of middle-class families and the Medicare benefits of retirees — a squabble that has even injected Big Bird into the race.
"I just want to make sure I've got this straight: He'll get rid of regulations on Wall Street, but he's going to crack down on 'Sesame Street'?" Obama said Thursday in Madison, Wis., referring to Romney's statement in the debate that he would cut a federal subsidy for PBS, which airs "Sesame Street." ''Thank goodness somebody's finally cracking down on Big Bird."
Nearly a month before Election Day, both campaigns were seeking to move on from the first presidential debate to gain any possible advantage in a tight election. Romney emerged from Wednesday's debate energized, while Obama said the televised encounter showed areas where his Republican rival was not being candid with voters.
And in an interview with Fox News Channel, Romney took on his disparaging comments about the 47 percent of Americans who don't pay federal income taxes, saying the remarks that have dogged his campaign for the last week were wrong.
"Well, clearly in a campaign, with hundreds if not thousands of speeches and question-and-answer sessions, now and then you're going to say something that doesn't come out right," Romney said Thursday. "In this case, I said something that's just completely wrong."
Both campaigns faced another potential turning point with the release of Friday's government report on unemployment for September. Joblessness was measured at 8.1 percent in August and economists predicted that employers added 111,000 jobs last month, up from the 96,000 jobs added in August. The jobless rate was expected to tick up slightly from 8.1 percent.
Following Friday's release of unemployment figures there is only one more jobless report left before Election Day.
The next presidential debate is not until Oct. 16, a town hall style meeting at Hofstra University in New York, giving both sides ample opportunities to blanket battleground states and raise money for the final weeks of television advertising.
Both Romney and Obama unveiled new ads in swing states Thursday, with Obama suggesting that Romney couldn't be trusted with the presidency and the Republican accusing the president of supporting a large tax increase on middle-class families.
Romney repeated the claim at a Thursday evening rally in Fishersville, Va., saying his opponent would raise taxes on the middle class. "I don't want to raise taxes on anybody," he said.
Romney's campaign was releasing three new ads on Friday, offering a window into his strategy for the coming week. One, called "Facts Are Clear," focuses on the national debt and accuses Obama of wasting trillions of dollars instead of creating jobs. A second spot features Greg Anthony, a former professional basketball player who's from Nevada, talking about his roots in that state and backing Romney.
The third spot is titled, simply, "Ohio Jobs." It features Romney looking straight at the camera to talk to voters from the Midwestern battleground state seen as critical to his White House hopes.
Obama's team was countering with an ad targeting Romney's tax plan, accusing him of planning to raise taxes on the middle class. The ad was airing in seven battleground states.
Obama and Romney both planned events in Virginia on Friday, reflecting the hotly contested race for the state's 13 electoral votes.
Romney planned a rally later in the day in St. Petersburg, Fla., kicking off a weekend of campaigning in that state, the largest of the prized battlegrounds. Obama was holding a Friday rally in Cleveland and then heading to California for a fundraising spree beginning Sunday that will include a concert in Los Angeles featuring Jon Bon Jovi, Katy Perry and Stevie Wonder.
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Traveling aboard Air Force One, White House senior adviser David Plouffe foreshadowed an intense focus on Ohio in the coming weeks, where polls have shifted in Obama's favor. No Republican has won the presidency without winning Ohio, and Obama's campaign sees blocking Romney there as one of its best paths to victory.
Plouffe said the true measure of the first debate was whether it moved voters in the battleground states. Speaking of Romney, Plouffe said, "Is he going to take the lead in Ohio? If he doesn't, he's not going to be president," he said.