NEW YORK – With the national political conventions over, President Bush (search) and John Kerry (search) hit the campaign trail Friday, heading to battleground states that are likely to decide November's election.
Bush began campaigning on proposals he outlined Thursday night in his primetime speech at the Republican National Convention. He stopped in Pennsylvania before heading to Iowa and Wisconsin for what the Bush-Cheney campaign is calling "Victory 2004" rallies.
The president, who appeared with the Pennsylvania's two Republican senators, spoke to a crowd of 18,000 at a minor-league ballpark in the town of Moosic. He said the jobs report that was issued Friday morning showed 144,000 new jobs added to the payrolls in August, plus revisions of about 60,000 other hires from previous reports.
Bush appears to have gotten a bounce after the Republican convention. A new Time magazine survey showed the president with a 52-41 advantage over his rival among likely voters. Ralph Nader picked up 3 percent in the survey, which marked a sharp break from polls taken over the past few months that had made the race a tossup.
Bush said that in order to create more jobs, government service programs must be able to adjust to new demands. The current system was "created for the world of yesterday, not tomorrow," he said. His goal in a second term will be to change that system, starting with a plan that "begins with making sure the economy continues to grow." He added that he wants to expand trade, open markets and simplify the tax code.
Bush began his speech by noting that Hurricane Frances is bearing down on Florida.
"I have ordered federal teams to be in position to help the good people of that state, but the best thing we can do back here is offer our prayers," he said.
Speaking on the jobs report, Democratic Rep. Dick Gephardt and Kerry-Edwards campaign adviser Joe Lockhart told reporters on a conference call that Bush will be "the first president in 70 years to lose jobs."
"The economy has lost 1.8 million private sector jobs since Bush took office," the campaign said in a statement. "He must create 900,000 jobs in each of the next two jobs reports just to hit zero jobs created under his watch."
Kerry and running mate John Edwards (search) held a late-night rally in Ohio Thursday night that began just minutes after the conclusion of the Republican convention, part of the Democrats' effort to take some the wind out of the GOP’s sails.
Kerry, Edwards and their wives are splitting up for four separate tours of battleground states on Friday. Democratic Party supporters around the country are also holding "Front Porch" discussions in over 25 states and 50 communities. Kerry and Edwards will headline those events, beginning on Labor Day.
The Kerry-Edwards campaign announced Thursday that it will begin the general election sprint with two new ads highlighting the "fundamental choice" in this election: "Four more years of an administration that puts the interests of the few ahead of middle-class families, or the Kerry-Edwards plan that understands a stronger America begins at home with good-paying jobs, affordable health care, energy independence and a stronger, safer country."
The new ads, "Economy-Ohio" and "Time," are part of the $50 million ad buy announced by the campaign this week.
The Bush-Cheney team was also launching three new ads on several new proposals the president described in his Thursday night speech. In the ads, Bush vows to "spread ownership and opportunity," "make our economy more job friendly" and help lower health care costs.
"We have come through a lot together. During the next four years, we'll spread ownership and opportunity," Bush says in one of the ads. "We gotta make sure our workers have the skills necessary to fill the jobs of the 21st Century."
Bush's decision to seize some momentum after the convention and take it to some of the critical battleground states in this year's election. Friday was the president's 33rd visit to the Keystone State since taking office, his ninth this year. Pennsylvania has 21 electoral votes in this year's election -- the fifth largest prize on Election Day.
Democrats have won Pennsylvania in the last three elections, so Bush is trying to reverse the trend. In the two other states, the president was visiting on Friday, Bush lost Wisconsin by about 5,000 votes and Iowa by less than 1 percent in 2000. Wisconsin has 10 electoral votes in this year's election, Iowa has seven.
Candidates Still Fight the War
Bush brought down the house at Madison Square Garden in New York Thursday night as he accepted his party's nomination for president and rallied his supporters to send him to the White House for another four years.
At the 38th Republican National Convention, Bush praised the city for its bravery and courage in the face of the Sept. 11, 2001, terror attacks, and praised Americans for standing strong in that time of destruction and for helping each other through it.
"I believe the most solemn duty of the American president is to protect the American people," the commander-in-chief said. "If America shows uncertainty and weakness in this decade, the world will drift toward tragedy. This will not happen on my watch."
On Friday, the president repeated remarks that he made at the convention regarding his decision to go to war in Iraq.
"We gave Saddam Hussein a final chance to meet his responsibilities to the civilized world. And when he refused, I faced the kind of decision that comes only to the Oval Office, a decision no president would ask for, but must be prepared to make: Do I trust the word of a madman and forget the lessons of September the 11th, or take action to defend America? Given that choice, I will defend America every time," he said.
After the convention, however, Kerry faulted Bush with continuing to pursue failing policies in Iraq, and also lashed out at Republicans who have questioned his service in Vietnam.
"For the past week, they attacked my patriotism and my fitness to serve as commander-in-chief," Kerry said o fthe Republicans. "Well, here's my answer for them. I will not have my commitment to defend this country questioned by those who refused to serve when they could have and by those who have misled America into Iraq.
"The vice president called me unfit for office last night. Well, I'll leave it up to the voters to decide whether five deferments makes someone more qualified to defend this nation than two tours of duty," he said.
Asked about Kerry's defensiveness on the stump, Bush-Cheney campaign spokesman Scott Stanzel said he was "disappointed" that Kerry feels the "need to lash out" with an attack the night the president laid out his vision for the country.
"The president talked about transforming the government and fighting threats and Kerry is stuck in debate of 35-years-ago," Stanzel said, calling Kerry's actions a response to "phantom attacks."
"There's one campaign who has made an issue about service in Vietnam and that's Kerry's," he said, adding that the president praised Kerry's service to the nation and called his combat action more heroic than Bush's service stateside in the Texas Air National Guard.
"We agree with the John Kerry of 1992 who said we should not divide the nation over how people served in the Vietnam-era," Stanzel said.
Democratic strategist Kirsten Powers called Kerry's appearance at a rally right after the Republican convention "unprecedented" but argued the candidate "had no choice."
"This week has just been outrageous ... it was a non-stop attack on John Kerry, rather than talking about their record," she said.
But Brad Blakeman, a former deputy assistant to Bush, said that Kerry's attack at the end of the GOP convention was outrageous.
"His campaign is in trouble and it's an act of desperation what he did last night and the American people can see it," he said.
FOX News' Liza Porteus, Kelly Chernenkoff and Mike Emanuel contributed to this report.