WASHINGTON (AP) — A month before Election Day, President Barack Obama's campaign and Democrats posted an impressive fundraising haul, easing the party's concerns that he would face a significant money disadvantage against his well-financed Republican rival in the crucial closing days. Romney shrugged off a drop in unemployment, an issue at the heart of the race, contending it's "crystal clear" a jobs crisis endures.
Bolstered by the Democratic National Convention, Obama and his party Saturday reported a combined take of $181 million for September, their best fundraising month of the campaign and just short of their record of $190 million in the 2008 campaign, also in September. Romney's campaign has not released its report for the month yet.
It was oddly quiet one month out. Obama took time off for a 20th anniversary celebration with his wife, Michelle, postponed from the day of the first presidential debate last week, while Romney devoted time to preparing for the next debate, Oct. 16 in Hempstead, N.Y., before a Saturday evening rally in Apopka, Fla..
But the money machine was grinding relentlessly. Republican running mate Paul Ryan scheduled an evening fundraiser in Milwaukee, Wis., and neither party let up in their appeals for cash for the frantic final weeks ahead. Ryan and Vice President Joe Biden go head-to-head in a debate Thursday in Danville, Ky.
"There is exactly one month left to go until Election Day," Obama campaign manager Jim Messina said in an email pitch. "The stakes are too high for us to take our foot off the gas now." The president was scheduled to launch a lucrative and celebrity-studded fundraising swing to Los Angeles and San Francisco on Sunday and Monday followed by a campaign rally in battleground Ohio.
Republicans and Romney himself have seemed invigorated by his spirited leadoff debate performance against a subdued president, which played out for a huge national TV audience, estimated at more than 67 million, just as voters at-large are tuning in to the campaign.
But then came the report Friday showing unemployment fell in September from 8.1 percent to 7.8 percent, marking the first time the rate dipped below 8 percent since the start of Obama's presidency. Obama seized on the good news, "a reminder that this country has come too far to turn back now," while Romney had little choice but to play down its significance.
"By any rational measure, it's crystal clear we're in the middle of a jobs crisis," Romney said in a fundraising message to supporters. "My priority is jobs. And from Day One of my presidency, I will lead us out of this crisis."
Defensive after the debate, Democrats contended Romney talked a good game but at the expense of the truth. A new TV ad by the Obama campaign, called "Dishonest," carries on the post-debate theme that Romney grossly misrepresented his own positions as well as Obama's on taxes. Online videos were posted by the campaign with the mantra, "Romney won't tell the truth," about Medicare, energy, taxes and more.
The latest fundraising report showed Obama and the Democratic National Committee improving on their take of about $114 million in August, when Obama gained a narrow edge in the money race after trailing Romney and Republicans for three straight months.
The Romney campaign has refused to release its September fundraising numbers, which are due Oct. 20, or say if they will make them available early as has become custom.
Aides have suggested that fundraising suffered in the final weeks of the month as polls found Romney falling behind Obama. Following Romney's debate performance, they were privately optimistic the numbers would improve to help fuel a television advertising blitz over the campaign's final month in as many battleground states as possible.
The president said in a series of messages on Twitter, the online social network, that more than 1.8 million people donated last month, including about 567,000 who had not given money before in 2008 or 2012. About 10 million people have donated to the campaign. Obama's campaign, the DNC and various fundraising entities supporting the president have now raised about $835 million, putting the campaign in striking distance of raising $1 billion for the season.
The Romney campaign was releasing a TV ad featuring a woman who says she voted for Obama in 2008 but is supporting the Republican today. "Why Mitt Romney?" she asks. "Being a woman, you think about your children, and you think about their future. And what I want to think about is a future that has jobs. That our economy's growing again. That's important to women and it's important to me."
Romney argued Friday that the change in the unemployment rate was nothing to celebrate given the millions of people in part-time jobs, those seeking better jobs and those who remain out of work.
"This is not what a real recovery looks like," Romney said shortly after the Labor Department released its report.
Associated Press writers Steve Peoples in Orlando, Fla., and Jack Gillum in Washington contributed to this report.