Mr. Bush began a post-convention campaign swing through three states he lost in 2000, telling a rally In Pennsylvania that he's the choice to build America's economy and keep the country safe from terrorists.
"If America shows uncertainty and weakness in this decade the world will drift toward tragedy," he said. "This will not happen on my watch."
Kerry, meanwhile, was campaigning in Ohio, where he cited new government figures showing fewer jobs created than expected as another example of what he called Mr. Bush's "record of failure."
"I don't think this is something to celebrate. I think it's something to get to work on," Kerry said to a small group gathered in Mark and Debbie Bickle's front yard in Newark, Ohio.
The Labor Department reported Friday that the unemployment rate slipped to 5.4 percent last month, from 5.5 percent in July, with the economy adding 144,000 jobs. Economists had been expecting a net gain of 150,000 jobs.
Mr. Bush departed New York immediately after his Madison Square Garden speech and traveled to the battleground state of Pennsylvania, where he told an enthusiastic audience that "we're coming down the stretch in this race."
"It's going to come down to the record we built, the convictions we hold and the vision that guides us forward," he said.
Mr. Bush, who echoed many of the themes of his acceptance speech, said the tax cuts orchestrated by his administration were responsible for rebounds in the U.S. economy.
Putting a positive spin on the government employment report, Mr. Bush noted that with revisions to job creation figures in July, which also were released Friday, more than 200,000 jobs were added during the past two months.
"Overall, we've added about 1.7 million jobs since August 2003. The unemployment rate is down to 5.4 percent. That's nearly a full point below the rate last summer and below the average of the 1970s and 1980s and 1990s," he said.
That wasn't Kerry's message in Ohio, where the state unemployment rate has been running higher than the national average since early this year. Both campaigns have repeatedly visited the state in a fierce fight for its 20 electoral votes.
"The president wants you to re-elect him. For what?" Kerry said. "Losing jobs? Building the biggest deficit in American history? Getting us into a war that you spent $200 billion on when he told you it would cost you $1 billion?"
Kerry also defended his vote against $87 billion for the military and reconstruction effort in Iraq that Republicans criticized as a vote against deployed troops.
"This president rushed to war without a plan to win the peace," Kerry said. "And I believe that because he didn't have a plan to win the peace, it was irresponsible to give him a blank check that gave $20 billion that was going to go be spent to Halliburton and all these other companies, that we needed accountability for this president."
Kerry faulted the Republicans for hiding Mr. Bush's "record of failure" behind a convention that he said was remarkable for "how angry and how bitter and how insulting" it was.
After ceding much of the campaign spotlight to the Republicans and their convention this week, Kerry plunged back into retail politicking with a bus tour of Ohio, beginning in Dayton. It will take him east through Springfield, Newark, Akron and Steubenville by Saturday.
In choosing Pennsylvania for his first post-convention stop, Mr. Bush returned to a key state he has now visited 34 times. After the Keystone State Mr. Bush is making appearances at Wisconsin's State Fair Park in West Allis and a park in Iowa.