An unexpectedly upbeat jobs report report Friday gave President Barack Obama a shot in the arm in the wake of a listless debate performance and pushed the economy center stage one month before the election.
Obama had been braced for bad news from the Labor Department but, while fresh data for September showed just 114,000 jobs generated last month, its revisions to numbers for July and August provided a sharply better picture.
The changes pushed the overall unemployment rate down to 7.8 percent from 8.1 percent in August, and undermined Republican nominee Mitt Romney's claim that Obama has proved unable to bring the jobless rate below 8.0 percent.
"This is not what a real recovery looks like," Romney protested.
"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," he said, in a campaign statement.
If not for all the people who have simply dropped out of the labor force, the real unemployment rate would be closer to 11 percent."
Eearlier, fresh from a much-needed debate win and aiming for the political center, Romney said his earlier remarks dismissing 47 percent of Americans as government dependents were "completely wrong."
The admission came after Romney overwhelmed Obama at Wednesday's debate, seizing the center ground and vowing 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-recorded video released last month showed Romney in a closed-door gathering with wealthy donors, saying 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 White House.
But an energized Romney delivered a surprisingly strong performance Wednesday 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.
Suddenly, the new job numbers that analysts had predicted would once again show sluggish economic growth could help boost Obama's standing and provide the rebound he needs on the campaign trail.
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 in the polls.
The president beseeched voters not to be duped by the suave debater seen by 67 million TV 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 in the electin's home stretch.
Obama aides admitted they needed to take a hard look at their strategy before the next debate on October 16, but accused Romney of making flagrant distortions that they said made it hard to pin him down during the debate.