"This president has created more excuses than jobs. His is the excuse presidency — never wrong, never responsible, never to blame," Kerry told the Detroit Economic Club. "President Bush's desk isn't where the buck stops, it's where the blame begins."
Kerry also reassured the largely Republican group that he would be a friend to business if elected president.
"Our plan is pro-worker and pro-business," he said. "I'm an entrepreneurial Democrat."
President Bush, meanwhile, was spending a full day in the nation's capital. But politics won't be far away even as Mr. Bush breaks his 44-day, outside-the-Beltway streak. He gets a chance to appeal to a key constituency at a White House concert and reception in honor of Hispanic Heritage Month.
On Thursday, Mr. Bush heads for Minnesota and several more days of travel. Aug. 2 was Mr. Bush's last full day in Washington.
In a separate campaign development, longtime Democratic insider Tony Coelho lashed out at the Kerry campaign, characterizing it as a campaign in chaos.
"There is nobody in charge and you have these two teams that are generally not talking to each other," Coehlo told CBSNews.com.
Coehlo, a former congressman who served as House majority whip for the Democrats from 1987 to 1989, ran Al Gore's campaign early in the 2000 presidential race.
The Kerry speech marked some of the candidate's strongest criticisms of the president's economic record, an issue he's been hammering along the campaign trail. Democratic analysts have urged Kerry to take a stronger stance against the president.
"We are punching back," Kerry told radio host Don Imus in an interview Wednesday. "I am absolutely taking the gloves off. I'm prepared to take them on and everything."
The sharper attacks included a swipe at the president's decisions in Iraq. Kerry said Mr. Bush's actions have made it harder for the next president to withdraw troops and argued that Bush should be under more pressure to develop his own withdrawal plan.
"What you ought to be doing, and what everybody in America ought to be doing today, is not asking me. They ought to be asking the president, what's your plan?" Kerry told Imus. "What's your plan, Mr. President, to stop these kids from being killed?"
Kerry's economic attack sought to pin more accountability on Mr. Bush for the economic unease persisting after the hits that the economy sustained early in the president's term.
"At that convention in New York the other week, President Bush talked about his ownership society," Kerry said. "When it comes to your record, we agree. You own it."
Kerry also hit another frequent campaign theme, contending that Bush looks out only for the wealthy few and not for the broad middle class. He faulted the president's tax cuts as a giveaway to the wealthy that "did nothing to ease the recession."
Bush has said the economy is bouncing back from hits it suffered at the outset of his presidency, including an inherited recession, the Sept. 11 attacks and a wave of corporate scandals. The Kerry campaign says Bush, a wartime president in control of a Republican Congress, implemented his economic program — and it failed.
The Bush campaign responded to the criticism of the president's economic record by touting recent improvements, including the creation of 1.7 million jobs in the last year. However, 913,000 jobs have been lost since Bush took office.
"The economy is growing, and the president has an agenda for the future," said spokesman Steve Schmidt. "John Kerry stands for failed old ideas of the past."
Kerry's campaign views job losses and economic worries as a strong force that could push key Midwestern states in Kerry's favor, if voters become dissatisfied with the president's response to economic uncertainties.
Michigan, where Kerry was laying out his critique of the president's economic performance, lost 245,000 jobs since Mr. Bush took office. The state's unemployment rate ran at 6.8 percent in July, above the national average.
The Massachusetts senator wants to put an economic program in place that combines tax cuts with new incentives for job creation, improvements in scientific and technological development, and programs to slow the rising cost of health care.