NEWARK, Ohio – Democrat John Kerry (search) cited new government figures Friday showing fewer jobs created than expected as another example of what he called President Bush's "record of failure."
"I don't think this is something to celebrate. I think it's something to get to work on," Kerry said to a small group gathered at in Mark and Debbie Bickle's front yard.
The Labor Department (search) reported Friday that the unemployment rate slipped to 5.4 percent last month, from 5.5 percent in July, with the economy adding 144,000 jobs. Economists, however, had been expecting a net gain of 150,000 jobs.
Ohio's unemployment rate has been running higher than the national average since early this year. Both campaigns have repeatedly visited the state in a fierce fight for its 20 electoral votes.
"The president wants you to re-elect him. For what?" Kerry said. "Losing jobs? Building the biggest deficit in American history? Getting us into a war that you spent $200 billion on when he told you it would cost you $1 billion?"
Kerry also defended his vote against $87 billion for the military and reconstruction effort in Iraq that Republicans criticized as a vote against deployed troops.
"This president rushed to war without a plan to win the peace," Kerry said. "And I believe that because he didn't have a plan to win the peace, it was irresponsible to give him a blank check that gave $20 billion that was going to go be spent to Halliburton and all these other companies, that we needed accountability for this president."
Kerry faulted the Republicans for hiding Bush's "record of failure" behind a convention that he said was remarkable for "how angry and how bitter and how insulting" it was.
Kerry spoke at a midnight rally in Springfield as Bush closed the GOP convention in New York with his acceptance speech. Kerry said the president was "unfit to lead this nation" because of the war in Iraq and his record on jobs, health care and energy prices.
He also lashed out at Bush and Vice President Dick Cheney for not serving in Vietnam during the war and for comments made during the convention about Kerry's fitness to be president.
"I will not have my commitment to defend this country questioned by those who refused to serve when they could have and who misled America into Iraq," Kerry told thousands at the rally.
Cheney and Sen. Zell Miller, (search) D-Ga., led a chorus of Republicans who challenged Kerry's credentials to be commander in chief, arguing that although they respected his decorated Vietnam War service, Kerry's 20-year voting record in the Senate on national security issues made him unfit for the nation's top job.
Bush served stateside in the Texas Air National Guard (search) during Vietnam. Cheney, a former secretary of defense, received five deferments and did not serve in the military.
Kerry said Bush and the Republicans avoided talking about "real issues" at the convention — jobs, the economy, health care and high gasoline prices — because of Bush's "record of failure."
"They did everything except talk about that. We've had insults, we've had anger from Republicans. And I'll tell you why," Kerry said. "Because they can't come to you and talk to you about having created jobs since they've lost them. They can't come to you and talk to you about creating health care since 5 million Americans have lost it.
"Their own labor secretary talks about exporting jobs overseas," he said. "They can't talk about their record because it is a record of failure. And so all they do is attack."
After ceding much of the campaign spotlight to the Republicans and their convention this week, Kerry plunged back into retail politicking with a bus tour of Ohio, beginning in Dayton. It will take him east through Springfield, Newark, Akron and Steubenville by Saturday.
Bush won Ohio by 3 percentage points in 2000 and the state is one of more than a dozen the two campaigns are fighting over. Kerry's trip to the Buckeye State is his 14th this year, while Bush has made nearly two dozen visits.
Besides Kerry, running mate, Sen. John Edwards, and spouses Teresa Heinz Kerry and Elizabeth Edwards will campaign Friday, also by bus, in the battleground states of Wisconsin, Iowa and Michigan, respectively.
Kerry's campaign will go on the air Friday in Ohio as part of a $50 million, two-month ad blitz, before expanding its ads to Florida, Iowa, New Mexico, Pennsylvania, New Hampshire and Wisconsin next week. Ads in 13 other states will come later in the fall.
Bush also is readying new post-convention ads, to begin airing Tuesday, laying out elements of the second-term agenda he outlined in his speech.