PRINCE GEORGE, Va. - President Barack Obama seized on news of another burst of job growth as proof the U.S. economy is rebounding on his watch from a disastrous recession.
The struggling economy has haunted the president as he seeks a second four-year term in November, and his Republican opponents have hammered the issue in their campaigns. But Obama's approval ratings have been rising along with the economic numbers.
"America is coming back," he told a fundraising event in Texas.
In the latest good economic news, the monthly jobs report released Friday showed employers created 227,000 jobs in February. The unemployment rate held steady at 8.3 per cent, the result of more Americans looking for work as job growth takes hold month by month.
Obama, making a campaign-like stop at a Rolls-Royce manufacturing plant in Virginia, warned factory workers and campaign donors that Republicans would offer only the policies "that got us into this mess."
"I did not run for this office just to get back to where we were. I ran for this office to get us where we needed to be," Obama said. "And I promise you, we will get there."
The jobs report and split loyalties among Republican voters give Obama's team renewed confidence about winning re-election and rebuilding the economy. But privately, his advisers know that outside factors in the United States and abroad — from high gasoline prices to instability in the Middle East — could still derail his political and economic ambitions in coming months.
Republican front-runner Mitt Romney, facing a new batch of voting Saturday after winning six of 10 states in this week's Super Tuesday contests, reminded the public that the country's unemployment remains above 8 per cent.
Despite his constant campaign message of having the business background to fix the economy — by far the biggest issue in this election — Romney has not been able to pull away from top challenger Rick Santorum and the trailing Newt Gingrich and Ron Paul for good.
The Republican race to pick up delegates, and the party's nomination, could continue for months. On Saturday, Romney won the Republican caucus in the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana islands, picking up nine delegates from the U.S. territory. He picked up nine more delegates when he won unanimous backing at the Republican convention on the U.S. terriotry of Guam. Romney's son Matt visited both Guam and the Northern Marianas to campaign for his father.
Kansas and the U.S. Virgin Islands also have voting Saturday, and Wyoming wraps up its caucuses.
Romney, campaigning in Mississippi before it and Alabama next week kick off a series of state-by-state voting in the heavily conservative and evangelical South, looked at the new economic report with skepticism.
"This president has not succeeded; this president has failed — and that's the reason we're going to get rid of him in 2012," Romney said.
The former Massachusetts governor continues to fight skepticism as well among Republican voters about his past, more moderate, views on such sensitive social issues as abortion. Santorum, a former Pennsylvania senator, styles himself as the true conservative in the race, but he lacks the campaign cash and organization that the multimillionaire Romney has at hand.
This year's presidential campaign is expected to be the most expensive ever, and Obama was in Houston Friday evening for two fundraisers.
Political calculations are not far from the surface in the president's trips. Virginia is expected to be a major election battleground. Texas is a reliably Republican state, but changing demographics and an influx of Hispanic voters have given Democrats hopes of competing in the state beyond the 2012 elections.
Associated Press writer Ken Thomas in Prince George, Virginia, contributed to this report.