A strong US jobs report gave President Barack Obama an upbeat end to a startling week for both presidential campaigns, while Republican challenger Mitt Romney finally addressed his disparaging remarks about the 47% of Americans who do not pay federal income taxes, calling his words "just completely wrong".
The government's new jobs report showed that the country's unemployment rate fell to 7.8% last month, dropping below 8% for the first time in nearly four years. Unemployment had been at 8.1%.
The report broke an important psychological barrier before the November 6 election. No president has been re-elected with unemployment above 8% since the Great Depression.
The report had the potential to swing momentum back to the president after he suffered through a weak first debate against Mr Romney on Wednesday night. The final monthly jobs report before the election will come just days before November 6.
Mr Romney's campaign had been hit hard by the secretly taped remarks that emerged last month, in which he said he could not convince nearly half the country to "take personal responsibility" for their lives. He slipped behind Mr Obama in some of the key battleground states that will decide the election as people again worried that the multimillionaire was out of touch with average Americans.
But Mr Romney's assertive debate performance against a tired-seeming Mr Obama rallied Republicans again to his side.
Mr Obama notably did not mention Mr Romney's "47%" comment during the debate, but Mr Romney brought it up in a Fox News interview last night, after a day of rallying conservative activists with his vision of his own inauguration.
He told Fox that the remarks, which he had once dismissed as "not elegantly stated", were wrong. "Well, clearly in a campaign, with hundreds if not thousands of speeches and question-and-answer sessions, now and then you're going to say something that doesn't come out right," Mr Romney said. "In this case, I said something that's just completely wrong." He added: "And I absolutely believe, however, that my life has shown that I care about 100% and that's been demonstrated throughout my life. And this whole campaign is about the 100%."
Hours after the report, Mr Obama told a rally in Virginia: "Today, I believe that as a nation we are moving forward again." He acknowledged that more work needs to be done, but added: "Today's news certainly is not an excuse to talk down the economy to score a few political points. ... This country has come too far to turn back now."
Mr Romney said that 7.8% unemployment "is not what a real recovery looks like". The surprising report so soon before the election brought scepticism from some - "can't debate so change numbers", former General Electric CEO Jack Welch tweeted - and Labour Secretary Hilda Solis found herself defending her work from suspicions that the Obama administration might have skewed the jobs numbers. "I'm insulted when I hear that because we have a very professional civil service," Ms Solis told CNBC.