Mitt Romney and President Obama sought to make closing arguments on the central issue of the election Friday by offering different interpretations of the latest employment figures.
Obama touted “real progress” on the jobs front after the Bureau of Labor Statistics found the economy added 171,000 jobs last month, while Romney said the 7.9 percent jobless rate highlighted how Obama had “fallen so very short” of fixing the economy.
The report was released four days before Election Day, with both candidates sprinting through a host of swing states in a race the conservative pollster Rasmussen declared a national dead heat, with both candidates winning 48 percent support from likely voters.
He told a crowd in Ohio — a state both candidates will visit repeatedly in coming days — that the jobs report showed companies had hired more workers in October than “any time in the last eight months.”
“We’ve made real progress, but we are here today because we know we’ve got more work to do,” Obama told the boisterous crowd. “As long as there’s a single American who wants a job and can’t find one, as long as there are families working harder but falling behind, as long as there’s a child anywhere in this country who's languishing in poverty and barred from opportunity, our fight goes on. We’ve got more work to do.”
Obama campaign traveling press secretary Jen Psaki told reporters traveling with the president in Ohio that voters are thinking about the latest job numbers in terms of how far the economy has come and who has a better plan going forward.
In a speech that began a half-hour later in Wisconsin, Romney said high unemployment underlined the fact that Obama promised change but failed to deliver it.
"The question of this election comes down to this: Do you want more of the same or do you want real change?" he said. "President Obama promised change, but he could not deliver it. I promise change, and I have a record of achieving it."
Romney described hiring as "stagnant" and seized on the fact that the unemployment rate ticked up from 7.8 to 7.9 percent.
"Think of that — unemployment today is higher than the day when Barack ObamaBarack ObamaBiden schedule sets off 2020 speculation Obama makes 0K for speech at A&E event: report Comedian Hasan Minhaj blasts Trump, media at correspondents' dinner MORE took office," Romney said.
The Rasmussen poll is one of several national polls that suggest Obama is picking up some more support in the race.
On Thursday, Obama pulled ahead of Romney in the RealClearPolitics average of polls, with 47.5 percent support compared to Romney’s 47.2 percent.
But individual swing-state polls present a confusing picture, with the two candidates battling in more than half a dozen states within the margin of error. The surveys suggest either candidate has a legitimate chance to win Virginia, Ohio, Florida, New Hampshire, Wisconsin, Iowa and Colorado.
While North Carolina has appeared to be moving in Romney’s direction, Obama’s campaign says it can still win the Tar Heel State. And while polls in Nevada have shown a consistent edge for the president, Romney’s campaign is not giving it up.
Romney also has plans to visit Pennsylvania, a state that has gone to the Democrats in each presidential election since 1992 but which Romney says he can win this year. Obama’s campaign says he is bluffing.
Seeking to win over voters in all of those states, Romney on Friday argued Obama had already proven he could not work with both parties in Washington, something the former governor of Massachusetts said he has done time and again.
"You know that if the president is reelected, he will still be unable to work with the people in Congress. He has ignored them, attacked them, blamed them," Romney said.
Romney gave new details on different points of his economic plan, saying he would float a "Worker Retraining Reform Act" and a "Downpayment on Fiscal Sanity Act" upon entering the White House.
Obama’s team believes he has built a firewall in the Midwest against Romney that consists of Pennsylvania, Michigan and Minnesota, which he argues are firmly in his column, as well as Wisconsin, Ohio and Iowa, which are in play.
The president’s championing of the auto bailout is a key reason Obama is confident he will keep a lead in the all-important state of Ohio. On Friday, for the first time, the president attacked Romney over ads claiming the auto bailout led Chrysler and General Motors to add jobs in China and not the U.S.
Obama noted the CEOs of the two companies have called out the Romney campaign over the ads, arguing they are misleading because both companies have added jobs in the U.S. since the bailout.
“Everybody knows it’s not true,” the president said of the ads. “The car companies themselves have told Gov. Romney to knock it off.
“And I know we’re close to an election, but this isn’t a game. These are people’s jobs. These are people’s lives,” he said.
After Obama's speech Friday, the Romney campaign said the president is the one delivering "false and misleading" attacks about the auto industry.
“The facts are clear: Despite his false and misleading attacks, President Obama took the auto companies into bankruptcy. His mismanagement of the process has exposed taxpayers to a $25 billion loss. And these companies are expanding production overseas," Romney spokeswoman Amanda Henneberg said.
Obama, who held his 23rd rally in Ohio this year on Friday, will be spending much of his time in the Buckeye State over the next three days. Campaign aides maintain that Ohio is the key to his pathway to 270 electoral votes, and Obama acknowledged as much in his speech.
"You may have noticed everyone is paying a lot of attention to Ohio, and rightfully so,” he said.
And during his second rally of the day, Obama offered up a new twist to his usual "Don't Boo, vote" message when the crowds boo at the mere mention of Romney.
"No, no, no, Don't boo. Vote," Obama told a crowd in Springfield, Ohio. "Voting is the best revenge."
But Republicans immediately pushed back on the comment.
"Obama would be using a plan to move our country forward as a motivator to get people to the polls if he had one — not revenge," said Kirsten Kukowski, a spokeswoman for the Republican National Convention. "So much for hope and change, now all Obama has is revenge."
— This story was originally published at 1:42 p.m. and last updated at 5:17 p.m.