Jewel Samad / AFP - Getty Images
President Obama walks to the stage to speaks at the Rolls-Royce Crosspointe in Prince George, Virginia, on March 9, 2012.
President Obama hailed news on Friday that the economy added jobs in February, while also previewing his case for re-election at a stop this afternoon in central Virginia.
"Day by day, we're restoring this economy from crisis," Obama told workers at the Rolls Royce Crosspointe manufacturing plant in Virginia, a key swing state. "But we can't stop there. We've got to make this economy ready for tomorrow."
The economy added 227,000 jobs in February, the Bureau of Labor Statistics said in its monthly report released this morning. The unemployment rate held steady at 8.3 percent, which was partly attributable to jobless workers re-entering the workforce.
The report builds on a streak of generally positive economic news, reports which have helped improve the president's approval rating heading into the height of the election season.
Obama's Republican opponents were put in the somewhat awkward position of having to criticize a generally positive jobs report as insufficiently robust.
"Any new job is a welcome paycheck for the American worker, but as past recoveries show, the current rate of growth will leave the American economy sputtering for years to come," former House Speaker Newt Gingrich said in a written statement.
And former Pennsylvania Sen. Rick Santorum told Bloomberg Television: "[C]ertainly a quarter of a million jobs, roughly, being added is a positive step forward ... Again, you have an administration that has consistently seen bad job reports because of bad policies that have led to those job reports. And eventually the economy does recover, in spite of the headwinds that this administration has put in its place."
Romney, the former Massachusetts governor, had not issued a written statement by early afternoon, but addressed the numbers more broadly at an event this morning.
"Don't forget, by the way, that this president ... told us that if he could borrow $787 billion -- almost $1 trillion -- he would keep unemployment below 8 percent," Romney said. "It has not been below 8 percent since. This president has not succeeded, this president has failed, and that's the reason we're going to get rid of him in 2012."
Romney has made his economic expertise versus Obama a cornerstone of his campaign, and increased economic momentum would threaten to undercut a central narrative of the Romney campaign.
The administration was eager, though, to trumpet the trajectory of the economy as evidence of the president's success. White House communications director Dan Pfeiffer tweeted a graphic showing the monthly jobs reports over the last few years, divided in colors by administration (red for George W. Bush, blue for Obama). That graph reflected the monthly reports over the last two years -- some more anemic than others -- reflecting job growth in the economy.
In that vein, Obama made the implicit case for why voters should entrust him -- versus his Republican challengers -- to manage the economy over the next four years.
"Our job now is to keep this economic engine churning. We can't go back to the policies that got us in this mess," he said in Prince George, VA, "we've got to have an economy that's built to last, and that starts with American manufacturing."
The president in particularly highlighted a new manufacturing initiative, and went after lawmakers Capitol Hill for holding up its implementation.
"We need Congress to act,” he said before pausing.“ “Hmm,” he continued, as the audience began to laugh, crescendoing into full cheering and applause.
Like North Carolina, which Obama visited earlier this week to make a speech on oil prices, Virginia is a key state for the president’s re-election campaign. He won it in 2008 with 53 percent, becoming the first Democrat in four decades to carry the state in a general election.
Recent polling shows Obama would be strong in a general election matchup against any of his Republican rivals in Virginia, which Mitt Romney won on Super Tuesday.
In an NBC/Marist poll released earlier this month, Obama lead the former Massachusetts governor by 17 points (50 to 38 percent) and held even bigger leads against the other three remaining candidates: Ron Paul, Rick Santorum and Newt Gingrich.
And a small majority of Virginia voters -- 51 percent -- approved of the president’s job in the NBC/Marist poll.
NBC's Garrett Haake contributed to this post.