First Romney, then Obama, launched a modest run of television ads in Minnesota, where neither side had made a significant effort to date. The Republican's aides claimed an opportunity to make a state competitive that had long been counted as safe for Obama. The president's side disputed that, insisting that its ads were aimed at voters in Wisconsin, the battleground next door.
Obama's strategists appeared concerned about the impact of Romney's persistent attacks on the president's position on Israel, airing a commercial in the West Palm Beach, Fla., area, home to a large number of Jewish voters. "As long as I'm president of the United States, Iran will not get a nuclear weapon," the president vows in the ad, addressing fears that Tehran would attempt to obliterate the Jewish state.
The ad's subject matter, foreign policy, was a rarity in a campaign for the White House focused largely on the economy and jobs.
Romney vows to put his experience as a businessman to use to create 12 million jobs in four years in a country where unemployment only recently fell below 8 percent for the first time since Obama took office. The president claims progress during his term on fixing the economy, though conceding it hasn't been fast enough, and says Romney's policies would only make matters worse.
There was little indication that the economy was gathering much momentum, based on a Commerce Department report during the day, which said growth from July through September was slightly faster than a 2 percent annual rate. Growth so far this year is slightly less than in 2011, which was weaker than 2010. Officials said the current annual rate is too slow to bring a rapid boost in job creation.
Not all economy-related soundings were negative.
A prominent measure of consumer confidence, calculated by the University of Michigan, rose to its highest level since September 2007, three months before the nation's economy cratered and the credit system virtually shut down.
Romney's aides billed his remarks as a speech about the economy although it was more political than that.
"Four years ago, candidate Obama spoke to the scale of the times. Today, he shrinks from it, trying instead to distract our attention from the biggest issues to the smallest, from characters on Sesame Street and silly word games to misdirected personal attacks he knows are false," he said.
"And then, where are the jobs? Where are the 9 million more jobs that President Obama promised his stimulus would have created by now? They are in China, Mexico, Canada" and elsewhere, he said.
The Republican's statement that it was no time to "double down on trickle down government policies" was eerily like Clinton's criticism at the Democratic convention. "We simply cannot afford to give the reins of government to someone who will double down on trickle down," the former president said, referring to policies he said Republicans had tried in the past with poor results.
The Romney campaign moved swiftly to try to lay one controversy to rest.
Former New Hampshire Gov. John Sununu suggested in an interview on Thursday that retired Secretary of State Colin Powell had endorsed Obama because both are black. Sununu later issued a statement that said, "I do not doubt that it was based on anything but his support of the president's policies."
Associated Press writers Julie Pace. Michele Salcedo and Martin Crutsinger in Washington and Beth Fouhy in New York contributed to this story. Espo reported from Washington.
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