Barack Obama braced for more bad news with the release of a monthly jobs report Friday expected to show an economy as listless as the president's White House debate performance this week.
Republican challenger Mitt Romney meanwhile, fresh from a much-needed debate win and aiming for the political center, said his earlier remarks dismissing 47 percent of Americans as government dependents were "completely wrong."
The admission came amid a campaign reset that shocked Obama at Wednesday's debate, in which his invigorated rival for the White House vowed to fight for middle class families being "crushed" by the president's policies.
"Clearly in a campaign with hundreds if not thousands of speeches and question and answer sessions, now and then you are going to say something (that) doesn't come out right," Romney told Fox News late Thursday.
"In this case, I said something that's just completely wrong. I absolutely believe, however, that my life has shown that I care about the 100 percent."
A secretly filmed video released last month by a liberal news website showed Romney, in a closed-door gathering with wealthy donors, saying that 47 percent of Americans paid no income taxes, viewed themselves as victims and would vote for Obama to keep getting government handouts.
Romney admitted when the remarks surfaced in mid-September that they were "not elegantly stated," but he then slid in the polls, leading many to wonder if the video had torpedoed his years-long quest for the presidency.
But on Wednesday an energized Romney delivered a surprisingly strong performance in the first of three presidential debates opposite a lethargic Obama, injecting new momentum into his campaign ahead of the November 6 vote.
To the surprise of many supporters, Obama did not mention the "47 percent" remarks during the debate.
The Democratic president will likely remain on the defensive later on Friday when the Labor Department releases monthly job numbers that analysts have predicted would once again show sluggish economic growth and stubbornly high unemployment.
In August, the unemployment rate fell to 8.1 percent but only 94,000 net new jobs were created, adding fuel to Romney's claims that Obama has run out of ideas to speed up the economic recovery.
On Thursday Obama went on the attack at big rallies in Colorado and Wisconsin, delivering the verbal blows he missed in the previous night's debate, and trying to prevent his GOP opponent from gaining a boost in the polls.
The president beseeched voters not to be duped by the suave debater seen by 67 million television viewers, but to focus on the "real Mitt Romney" who he said promised tax cuts for the rich and cared little for ordinary Americans.
"If you want to be president, you owe the American people the truth," a fired-up Obama told supporters anxious not to see him fritter away his opinion poll lead less than five weeks from election day.
Obama aides admitted that they needed to take a hard look at their strategy before the next debate on October 16, but accused Romney of flagrant distortions that they said made it hard to pin him down during the debate.
Romney celebrated his debate coup with a surprise visit to a conservative conference in Denver, and warned that Obama's economic policies would take America down a slippery slope to the fate of debt-laden Europe.
"I saw the president's vision as trickle-down government, and I don't think that's what America believes in," Romney said. "I see instead a prosperity that comes through freedom."
Romney continued his victory lap in the vital swing state of Virginia, with his vice presidential nominee Paul Ryan.
The Republican ticket later gained the endorsement of the National Rifle Association, the biggest gun rights lobby in the United States.
Obama meanwhile sought to capitalize on openings he missed against the well-prepared Romney, including his vow to end government subsidies for PBS television, the stomping ground of famed Sesame Street character Big Bird.
"He would get rid of regulations on Wall Street, but he's gonna crack down on Sesame Street. Thank goodness somebody is finally cracking down on Big Bird," Obama quipped at a rally in the Wisconsin college town of Madison.
But in a hiccup for the normally smooth Obama machine Thursday, the campaign missed a chance to highlight its biggest crowd so far -- 30,000 -- in Madison after an airport delay in Denver caused reporters to miss the event.