(CNN) - President Barack Obama downplayed a weak jobs report Friday as he wrapped up a two-day bus tour to critical states in the November election, while Republicans pounced on the news to declare the president's policies have failed.
Stock prices dropped sharply at the opening bell on the report that the economy created 80,000 jobs in June, well below the number needed to bring down the 8.2% unemployment rate.
At a campaign event in Poland, Ohio, Obama said the job growth -- while smaller than needed -- continued a trend that has added 4.4 million jobs in the past 28 months following what he called "the worst economic crisis of our lifetime."
"That's a step in the right direction," Obama contended.
Republicans, however, called the weak growth a result of Obama policies that don't work.
Certain GOP presidential nominee Mitt Romney called the jobs figures a "kick in the gut for middle-class families," blaming Obama's policies for continued high unemployment and saying it was "time for Americans to choose whether they want more of the same."
"His policies have not worked," Romney said at a brief news conference in New Hampshire, where he is vacationing with his family.
Referring to more than three years of unemployment higher than 8%, Romney said "the evidence is in, again and again and again" and added that the continuing high unemployment rate "pretty much defines lack of success."
Other Republican leaders echoed Romney's remarks, with House Speaker John Boehner taking a jab at Obama's comment last month that when compared to public sector job creation, the private sector was "doing fine."
"Today's report shows the private sector clearly isn't 'doing fine' and that President Obama's policies have failed," Boehner, R-Ohio, said in a statement. Republican National Committee Chairman Reince Priebus' statement said, "The Obama economy is defined by chronically high unemployment."
The president's comments Friday were a small part of a full-fledged campaign speech that emphasized restoring opportunity for the middle class, in contrast to what Obama characterized as Republican policies that favor corporations and the wealthy.
Obama's speech at a school in Poland was his final stop in the battleground state before his bus tour concludes in western Pennsylvania later in the day.
The campaign event included the president joking with the crowd, kissing at least one baby and laying out a vision of middle-class opportunity while making sure to note his administration's help in reviving the U.S. auto industry, which is big in Ohio.
Obama rebuffed GOP criticism that his policies are wrong, blaming political stalemate in Washington for the failure by Congress to pass needed job creation measures he has endorsed, such as ending tax breaks for companies that send jobs overseas.
"This election is about how we break that stalemate," Obama said. "It's in your power to break the stalemate."
House Democratic leader Nancy Pelosi, meanwhile, accused congressional Republicans of obstructing economic progress by focusing on partisan politics, such as a planned House vote next week to repeal the health care reform law in what would be a purely symbolic gesture.
"It's time for Republicans to abandon their agenda of obstruction and delay, and work with Democrats to create jobs and strengthen the middle class," said a statement by Pelosi, D-California.
After Obama returns to Washington on Friday afternoon, he will sign a giant transportation bill that includes funding for road and bridge construction and repairs -- a component of Obama's jobs plan that Congress passed last week as part of a package that included holding down interest rates on federal student loans.
Both components were top priorities for Obama and passed after lengthy negotiations in Congress that were delayed by partisan posturing.
All polling so far shows a tight race between Obama and Romney, and that voters consider the economy the top issue.
Obama contends the economy continues to show slow growth after the deep recession he inherited, while Romney argues the president's policies deter job creation.
In his remarks Friday, Romney specified what he called excessive corporate taxes and regulatory burdens as the main culprits.
"The president's policies have not got America working again," Romney said. "The president's s going to have to stand up and take responsibility for it."
Obama, however, said the policies espoused by Romney and Republicans -- such as cutting taxes and removing regulations -- failed under the Bush administration and only would help the rich get richer while keeping the middle class stagnant or worse.
"We saw us fighting two wars on a credit card," Obama said of what happened before he took office. "The tax cuts turned a surplus into a deficit and the lack of regulation resulted in what happened on Wall Street and we ended up with the biggest crisis we have ever seen. It ain't right. It is not a smart theory."
At the heart of the issue are the differing