(CNN) — President Barack Obama hit the road for campaigning and fundraisers Friday, arguably the worst day so far in his re-election bid due to a disappointing employment report that brought sharp Republican attacks led by certain GOP presidential nominee Mitt Romney.
In a visit to a Honeywell International plant in suburban Minneapolis, Obama announced new efforts to help war veterans find work back home using the skills they learned in the military.
He also urged Congress to establish a Veterans Jobs Corps modeled on the Civilian Conservation Corps of decades past.
However, the employment report earlier Friday that showed lower-than-expected growth of 69,000 jobs last month and a rise in the unemployment rate to 8.2% provided Romney and Republicans an opening to ratchet up their incessant criticism of Obama’s economic policies.
“It is now clear to everyone that President Obama’s policies have failed to achieve their goals and that the Obama economy is crushing America’s middle class,” Romney said in a statement.
He described the new numbers as “devastating news for American workers,” adding that Obama’s “re-election slogan may be ‘forward,’ but it seems like we’ve been moving backward. We can do so much better in America.”
Piling on was House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, who released a statement saying Obama’s “failed policies have made high unemployment and a weak economy the sad new normal for families and small businesses.”
Obama mentioned the jobs report in his remarks to Honeywell workers, saying that the nation continues to fight its way back from the severe recession his administration inherited.
“The economy is growing again but it is not growing as fast as we want it to grow,” Obama said, noting more than 4 million new jobs have been created over the past 27 months. “But as we learned in today’s jobs report, we are still not creating them as fast as we want.”
He noted that events abroad that the United States can’t control, such as Middle East disturbances or European economic woes, contribute to economic “headwinds” at home. That means Americans, and especially Congress, must do everything possible to promote economic growth, Obama emphasized.
With polls showing the economy as the most important issue by far to voters, the jobs report was bad news for Obama’s re-election campaign on a day when the president also planned six fundraisers — three in Minnesota and three more in his hometown of Chicago.
So far, the presidential race has focused on Republican claims that Obama’s policies have failed the country, and Democratic assertions that Romney and Republicans seek the same “trickle down” policies favoring the wealthy at the expense of the middle class that led to the last recession.
In particular, the Obama campaign has targeted Romney’s experience in private equity, calling it successful capitalism but not the right background for government leadership.
On Thursday, Obama’s campaign also criticized Romney’s record as governor of Massachusetts, with state officials enlisted to tell how Romney promised economic growth but failed to deliver.
Republicans complain that Obama and Democrats are attacking Romney because they can’t run on the president’s record. However, a group that analyzes campaign spending reported Friday that 70% of ads run by Democrats in the first six weeks of the presidential campaign were positive in nature, while 73% of commercials run by Republicans were negative.
Data provided in a weekly note to their clients by Kantar Media/Campaign Media Analysis Group, which tracks political ad spending, showed that overall, 51% of broadcast TV spots in the race for the White House have been positive, while 49% have been negative.
The figures apply to the period from April 10 through May 24. April 10 is the day former Sen. Rick Santorum of Pennsylvania suspended his presidential campaign, which made Romney the presumptive GOP nominee.
At the Honeywell plant Friday, Obama announced an executive order intended to make it easier for companies to hire returning service members who can prove they have learned needed skills while in the military.
In addition, a new task force will find ways to help veterans get certified at home for such skills, Obama said, adding that veterans shouldn’t have to “prove themselves over and over again.”
He also pushed for Congress to establish a jobs program for veterans from the Iraq and Afghanistan wars originally announced earlier this year. The unemployment rate for veterans is 9.2%, a full percentage point higher than the overall unemployment rate.
The Veterans Jobs Corps is designed to put veterans to work building infrastructure such as roads and bridges, similar to the Civilian Conservation Corps of the 1930s.
Another part of the plan would provide additional money to communities across the country to hire veterans as police and firefighters.
However, the price tag of up to $5 billion has been a stumbling block in Congress, because of a deep political divide over any new spending that is now exacerbated by election year politics.
At the six fundraisers later Friday, Obama’s campaign could bring in more than $6.5 million, according to campaign officials.
Proceeds from Friday’s events will go to the Obama Victory Fund, a joint fundraising committee of Obama for America, the Democratic National Committee and several state Democratic parties.
At least Obama may get a good night’s rest. White House deputy press secretary Josh Earnest told reporters that Obama would spend a night at his Chicago home for the first time in months, and was looking forward to it, including the possibility of making his own breakfast in the morning.
CNN’s Jessica Yellin, Lesa Jansen, Ashley Killough, Paul Steinhauser and Kevin Liptak contributed to this report.