US President Barack Obama celebrated some unexpected but much-needed good economic news on Friday as the unemployment rate dropped to its lowest level since he took office.
Mr Obama is vulnerable on the economy, which is growing at a snail's pace, and Republican rival Mitt Romney has sought to exploit that vulnerability in the race for the White House. He said the president still has not done enough to help millions of people who are out of work, and argued that the rate is low in part because some people have stopped looking for work.
Still, the figures announced by the Labour Department - 114,000 new jobs last month to bring the unemployment rate to 7.8% - gave Mr Obama fresh evidence on the heels of a disappointing debate performance earlier this week to argue that his economic policies are working.
"Today's news should give us some encouragement," Mr Obama told thousands gathered in the rain for an afternoon rally at Cleveland State University, in the battleground state of Ohio. "It shouldn't be an excuse for the other side to try to talk down the economy just to try to score a few political points."
The unemployment rate fell from 8.1% in August, matching its level in January 2009 when Mr Obama became president. There is one more monthly unemployment report before the November 6 election, so the numbers could leave a lasting impact on Americans who are already casting ballots in states that allow early voting.
Because the American presidential race is decided in state-by-state votes rather than by popular vote, states that do not reliably vote either Republican or Democratic are likely to decide the race. They include Ohio and Virginia, where Mr Obama and Mr Romney were campaigning.
"This is not what a real recovery looks like," the former Massachusetts governor and businessman said, an analysis echoed by other Republicans throughout the day. "We created fewer jobs in September than in August, and fewer jobs in August than in July, and we've lost over 600,000 manufacturing jobs since President Obama took office," Mr Romney added.
"If not for all the people who have simply dropped out of the labour force, the real unemployment rate would be closer to 11%," he said.
Incumbent and challenger alike campaigned in battleground states during the day, each man starting out in Virginia before the president headed for Ohio and Mr Romney flew to Florida.
Recent polls have shown Mr Obama with leads in most if not all of the battleground states, although the impact of Wednesday night's debate and of the drop in unemployment could well change some public opinion.