The states are key battlegrounds for the November election
Now it begins. All over again.
The primary season over and the nominating conventions complete, Mitt Romney and Barack Obama hit the ground running Friday for the final stretch of a campaign that began, for Romney at least, more than a year ago in Iowa.
Over the next 60 days of campaigning, much of it focusing on key battleground states, the two men will pitch their visions for the country to a divided electorate.
They began Friday with two states that have long figured prominently in presidential elections: Iowa and New Hampshire.
President Obama, fresh off his speech Thursday night accepting the Democratic presidential nomination, headed to Portsmouth, New Hampshire, with Vice President Joe Biden and their wives for a campaign rally. Meanwhile, Republican challenger Romney rallied supporters in Orange City, Iowa.
Later, the candidates will swap, with Obama and Biden traveling to Iowa City, Iowa, while Romney heads to Nashua, New Hampshire.
As their opening salvo, Republicans quickly seized on the worse-than-expected jobs report issued Friday by the Department of Labor.
While unemployment fell to 8.1% in August from 8.3% the month before, the dip was largely the result of fewer people looking for work, an analysis of the data showed.
And while the economy added 96,000 jobs in August, that's down from 141,000 the month before.
Economists polled by CNNMoney had predicted 120,000 new jobs in August.
"After the party last night, the hangover today," Romney told reporters Friday in Sioux City, Iowa, referring to Obama's acceptance speech Thursday night.
"The jobs numbers were very disappointing," he said. "For almost every net new job created, approximately four people dropped out of the workforce. Seeing that kind of report is obviously disheartening to the American people who need work and are having a heard time finding work."
Obama fired back in his Portsmouth appearance, stressing the positive news that businesses had created jobs for the 30th straight month. But he ackowledged the pace was insufficient.
"We know it's not good enough. We need to create more jobs, faster," he said.
He also said the economic recovery will take years.
"I'm not going to pretend this path is quick or easy," he said.
Thursday night, Obama urged supporters to stick with him in his speech to the Democratic National Convention in Charlotte, North Carolina. He argued that everyday Americans would be sold out if Romney wins the election.
"If you turn away now -- if you buy into the cynicism that the change we fought for isn't possible -- well, change will not happen," he said in his speech.
He said voters will have "a choice between two different paths for America, a choice between two fundamentally different visions for the future."
In response, Romney said Obama was offering more of the same policies he said have led to high unemployment, rising deficits and a slow economic recovery.
"Americans will hold President Obama accountable for his record -- they know they're not better off and that it's time to change direction," the Romney campaign said in a statement.
In Iowa, he reiterated the charge, and said Obama's acceptance speech highlighted his opponent's shortcomings.
"There was nothing in the speech that gives confidence that the president knows what he is doing when it comes to jobs and the economy," Romney said. "As a matter of fact, he hardly even mentioned jobs or the economy."
In the latest CNN/ORC International poll -- conducted before the Democratic convention -- Obama and Romney were tied. In the poll of 1,005 likely voters, 48% said they would support Romney and an identical number backed Obama.