ABINGDON, VA. - The job numbers did not quite go Mitt Romney's way Friday morning, but the candidate was unfazed as he climbed up on the back of a flatbed truck to tell the voters of coal country that 7.8 percent unemployment simply wasn't good enough.
Determined to keep building the momentum for his campaign after Wednesday's debate, Romney reminded his audience of the economic angst of the past four years and the millions of Americans who are still looking for work, as well as those who have given up their search. "We can do better," he said. "I know right now you're thinking about one job: your job. I'm thinking of your job as well. Person by person. I want to make sure your jobs stay here, grow here and provide a bright future for you and for your family."
Still, there were adjustments to his script. Gone was a favorite line about how unemployment has been above 8 percent each month that President Obama has occupied the Oval Office. Instead he plucked facts selectively (as his rival has also done on occasion) from Friday's Labor Department report -- noting, for example, that fewer new jobs were created in September than in August. He insisted that the unemployment rate has "come down very, very slowly" and that the middle class "is being squeezed with higher and higher costs."
"I'll tell you this," he said, "... when I'm president of the United States -- that unemployment rate is going to come down, not because people are giving up and dropping out of the workforce, but because we're creating more jobs."
If the jobs report was a setback from a political perspective, Romney didn't let on. Since he knocked Obama off stride Wednesday, his campaign seemed to roar back to life after a dismal few weeks. During a rowdy evening rally that began with a tribute from country star Trace Adkins and ended with fireworks, his running mate Paul Ryan said the United States had finally gotten "to see the man I know -- a leader. A decisive man, an optimistic man, a man with a plan to get people back to work and to protect our freedoms."
Although Romney was roundly seen as winning the debate, it is unclear how much that performance -- or the new job numbers, for that matter -- will move the polls in key states. And his campaign still seemed to be zigzagging between attempts to moderate his image -- as he did during the debate -- and reassuring his base of his conservative values, as he did at Thursday night's NRA-themed rally.
For now, Romney and his supporters seemed elated that they had a chance to change his trajectory. The candidate lingered on the rope line near the Virginia-Tennessee border -- scooping up children and greeting others with a two-handed grip as they reached across the barricades.
"He touched my hand! He touched my hand!" supporter Tina Cook said. "He is my hope."