By Karin Caifa in Washington D.C.
It's a gray, rainy day here in Washington, and the Labor Department made things even gloomier with its monthly jobs report. And the presidential candidates, campaigning miles outside the Beltway, took notice.
John McCain has centered his campaign around his national security credentials and military background, but this morning's employment report prompted him to say that the economy is the "greatest challenge" the country faces right now.
The U.S. economy shed jobs for the second straight month, according the Labor Department, caving among pressures in the housing market and from inflation. The loss of 63,000 was the biggest drop since March 2003, the beginning of the Iraq war. Analysts were anticipating a gain.
The employment report kicked off a disappointing day on Wall Street. The dollar hit a new low against the Euro, which in turn pushed oil to a record high, and the Dow Jones Industrial Average was forced below the 12,000 mark for the first time since January.
McCain, making a stop at the corporate headquarters of fast-food chain Chick-Fil-A in Atlanta, said, "Today's unemployment figures are not good. They're not terrible, but they're not good. The unemployment rate did not go up but there there's not been the jobs created that we want in America."
"I think it's pretty obvious the economy is on most people's minds now and is clearly the greatest challenge that we face," he added.
Earlier in the primary season, former rival Mitt Romney jumped on McCain for saying economics was not his strong suit. Today McCain told reporters that he is "sufficiently proficient" when it comes to economic issues.
The Democrats, heading into contests in Wyoming and Mississippi, used the economic news to bash McCain and to link him with President Bush, who endorsed the presumptive GOP nominee on Wednesday.
Barack Obama, on his way to campaign events in Casper and Laramie, Wyoming, took swipes at President Bush and Senator Hillary Clinton in a statement on the jobs news. Americans "can't afford John McCain's promise of four more years of the very same failed Bush economic policies that have failed us for the last eight," he said. "And they can't afford another politician who promises solutions but won't change the divisive, lobbyist-driven politics in Washington."
Senator Clinton, campaigning in Mississippi, ahead of that state's Tuesday primary, told a crowd in Hattiesburg, "The economic policies of the Bush administration are failures. People are out of work, and the work they have doesn't pay what it used to pay."