AKRON, Ohio – President Bush (search) and John Kerry (search) battled over the economy and jobs in a small corner of the campaign's most fiercely contested state Saturday as polls showed a post-convention surge for the Republican in the White House.
With little more than eight weeks remaining to Election Day, a Newsweek survey gave the president a lead of 52-41 over Kerry, with independent Ralph Nader at 3 percent. A Time Magazine poll released a day earlier also made it an 11-point race.
"We're doing good," Kerry told an Ohio supporter. "They're going to get a bounce out of the convention, but we'll be coming back."
Presidential candidates often enjoy a boost in support in polls taken in the wake of their party conventions. Sometimes that can portend victory — but such gains also can melt away rapidly in the heat of a fall campaign.
Bush and Kerry both chose Ohio for their stage at the beginning of the Labor Day weekend, traditionally viewed as the kickoff for the fall campaign.
"They promised to create 6 million jobs, and guess what? They're about 7 million short," said Kerry, who also criticized the administration's new 17 percent increase in Medicare premiums.
"They can't come here to Akron or to any other place in America and talk to you about all the jobs that they created, because they haven't," he added.
A few miles up Interstate 77 outside Cleveland, Bush conceded the state has "pockets of unemployment that are unacceptable."
At the same time, he said, "the economy is strong and getting stronger," and accused his Democratic rival of proposing tax increases that would crimp the economy.
"He's not going to be taxing anybody in '05, because he's not going to win," the president added quickly to applause from his supporters in Broadview Heights. "We're going to win Ohio and we're going to win the country."
Kerry has said he would restore taxes to pre-Bush levels on people earning more than $200,000 to help pay for expanded health care coverage.
No Republican — Bush included — has ever won the White House without carrying Ohio, but lingering unemployment and anger about jobs getting shipped overseas have made the state a tossup.
Both men campaigned across the northeastern, Democratic part of the state, signaling a desire by Kerry to maximize his support, and an attempt by the president to hold down his rival's margins.
"I believe we need a new direction for America's families, and together, we're going to put the middle class first and get our economy back on track," the Massachusetts senator said in the Democrats' weekly radio address.
Ohio had an unemployment rate of 5.9 percent in July, the latest available. The national rate was 5.5 percent the same month, dipping to 5.4 percent in August.
Bush seized on new employment numbers showing 144,000 new jobs were added to payrolls as evidence of an improving economy. Kerry said it merely confirmed that the president's term would probably end with a net loss of jobs, the first since the Great Depression (search).
Kerry also criticized Bush for the 17 percent increase in Medicare (search) premiums that beneficiaries will confront next year — an $11.60 jump per month and the largest in the history of the program.
A new campaign ad that starts airing Tuesday shows Bush promising in his convention speech to protect seniors, and then points to the Medicare increase announced a day later. "The wrong direction for the country," the narrator says.
An opponent of the Medicare prescription drug legislation that Bush signed earlier this year, Kerry criticized Bush in Ohio for policies that block Americans from buying their medicine at lower cost in Canada.
For his part, Bush said the tax cuts (search) he pushed through Congress had helped restore economic growth after recession and the terrorism attacks of Sept. 11, 2001.
"We have got a plan to make sure that people who want a job can find one. The plan says that in order to keep jobs in America, we got to keep your taxes low," he said.
"Running up the taxes on the people right now would hurt the economic vitality and growth."
Kerry has said he will roll back tax cuts on the wealthiest Americans, but will cut taxes further for the middle class.
"This is not the time to give tax cuts to the Bill Gates of the world," said Kerry's running mate, John Edwards, speaking in Newport, Wis., about the nearly $400 billion record deficit (search).
Vice President Dick Cheney, campaigning in Roswell, N.M., continued criticizing Kerry for his vow to build coalitions and work with the United Nations (search) before going to war.
"We will never seek a permission slip to defend the United States," Cheney said on his fourth trip to New Mexico this year.
Late Saturday, Teresa Heinz Kerry, the wife of the Democratic presidential candidate, was taken to a hospital in Mason City, Iowa, after complaining of an upset stomach, a spokeswoman said. She was taken to Mercy Medical Center-North Iowa by ambulance from the airport.
"As a precaution, Mrs. Heinz Kerry had a series of routine tests performed and was released," said Sarah Geggenheimar, a spokeswoman for Heinz Kerry. "She is feeling better and is traveling to her home in Pittsburgh tonight as planned."
Heinz Kerry had just finished a private meeting with a group of local Democrats to talk about health care. She was traveling separately from her husband.
The Newsweek poll of 1,008 registered voters was taken Thursday and Friday and has a margin of error of plus or minus 3 percentage points.
The poll also found Bush's approval rating at 52 percent, the first time it has topped 50 percent in the magazine's surveys since January. Also, 53 percent said they wanted to see Bush re-elected.
Both sides downplayed the polls. "I've got a lot of work to do," Bush said at an Ohio ice cream shop.
Kerry spokesman David Wade said the election won't be decided on a couple of national polls. "This is a race that's going to be decided in battleground states," he said.