AKRON, Ohio — A sobering economic snapshot intensified the presidential campaign Friday as President Barack Obama rolled through two vote-rich battleground states and Republican Mitt Romney fended off conservative complaints about his plan for winning.
A stand-pat jobless report that left the unemployment rate unchanged at 8.2 percent set a new standard from which to judge the president and for Romney to attempt to exploit with Election Day only four months away.
“This kick in the gut has got to end,” Romney said Friday.
Obama was in Ohio and Pennsylvania, hotly contested battlegrounds whose modest economic gains he hoped to leverage into a case for his re-election.
The jobs report showed only 80,000 jobs created in June, a disappointing number that comes amid growing public anxiety about the economy.
Alan Krueger, the chairman of the White House’s Council of Economic Advisers, said the jobs report shows that the economy is continuing to heal with the private sector adding jobs for 28 straight months.
But the 80,000 net jobs created are not enough to keep up with population growth, and Krueger conceded that more must be done to recover from the financial crisis and the recession.
Romney was biting in his criticism of Obama.
“American families are struggling; there’s a lot of misery in America today,” he said, interrupting his vacation in New Hampshire to react to the jobs numbers. “The president’s policies have not gotten America working again. And the president is going to have to stand up and take responsibility for it.”
Obama had little to say about the jobs report. He called the numbers a “step in the right direction,” but said the economy has to grow “even faster.”
Romney was at his lakeside 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 him, and right-leaning leaders in business and the media say he is presenting a muddled case for his presidency despite a weak economy.
“I don’t say much to critics,” Romney said Friday, noting that he has issued a 59-point economic plan to counter the president.
On his tour, Obama was promoting policies that he said 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 a Cincinnati TV station 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.
The jobless numbers promised to command attention Friday and determine the nature of the political debate.“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 they noted sustains a string of months where the private sector has increased hiring.