Pressing their economic arguments, President Obama and challenger Mitt Romney are campaigning in three of the most tightly contested states, looking to build enthusiasm with a public otherwise preoccupied with vacations, the Olympics and the sweltering August heat.
Obama was traveling to Florida and Virginia on Thursday, continuing to draw attention to a Romney tax plan that the president says would force middle-income taxpayers to pay more while giving a tax cut to the wealthy.
Romney was headed to Colorado, where he was to appear with 10 Republican governors, some mentioned as potential running mates, at an event near Aspen.
Their travels come as Congress helped the candidates frame the economic issues Wednesday with partisan votes on tax measures that also underscored Washington's political stalemate. The Republican-controlled House approved an extension of Bush-era tax rates, just a week after the Democratic-controlled Senate voted in favor of Obama's plan for continuing current tax rates only for households earning less than $250,000 or for individuals under $200,000.
With the tax issue dominating the current debate, Obama's was visiting two states that represent the bookends of the national economy. Florida is among the states hardest hit by the housing bust and has an unemployment rate of 8.6 percent, higher than the national average and tied for 39th among the 50 states. Virginia, on the other hand, has the 10th lowest unemployment at 5.6 percent.
Colorado, where Romney was to give a campaign address at a fairgrounds in Golden before joining Republican governors at high school in Basalt, has been struggling with a jobless rate equal to the national average of 8.2 percent. For Romney, the trip west is his first political campaign appearance since returning from an overseas trip heavy on foreign policy.
As if to emphasize the challenge facing the presidential contenders, the Federal Reserve on Wednesday said the U.S. economy was losing strength. The Fed took no new action to boost the economy, but it appeared to signal an inclination to take steps to stimulate job creation if the economic deceleration continued.
The next major marker of economic health comes Friday, when the government announces July hiring and unemployment trends.
Economists forecast that U.S. employers added 100,000 jobs in July. That would be slightly better than the 75,000-a-month average from April through June but still below the healthy 226,000 average in the first three months of the year.
Romney's appearance with governors would not only create a show of force, but it also would underscore his own role as a former governor of Massachusetts. And it would tease speculation about his pick for a running mate, as those with him will include governors such as New Jersey's Chris Christie, Louisiana's Bobby Jindal, South Carolina's Nikki Haley and Virginia's Bob McDonnnell, all of whom have been mentioned as possible Romney picks. Absent will be two of the most often mentioned possibilities, Sen. Rob Portman of Ohio and former Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty.
Obama was headed to Orlando to make up for an appearance he postponed last month after the shooting tragedy in Aurora, Colo. Orlando is in the middle of a Florida swath that separates the Republican-leaning north of the state and the Democratic-leaning south.
He then will take his message of higher taxes for rich Americans to Leesburg, Va., in the nation's wealthiest county, near Washington, D.C. Obama carried the county in 2008, the first time a Democratic presidential candidate won there in four decades.