The finger-pointing on Medicare, the personal attacks and the overwhelmingly negative ads now marking the presidential contest are overshadowing the clear No. 1 issue for voters: jobs and the weak economy.
The economy remains President Barack Obama's top vulnerability. His campaign has consistently sought to direct attention elsewhere, while Republican challenger Mitt Romney keeps pounding away at Obama's economic stewardship.
But guess what? The economy is improving — steadily if modestly.
Employers added 163,000 jobs in July, home prices and exports are up, stocks are near this year's highs and July's consumer spending growth was the strongest in five months.
The good numbers are easing fears of another recession, despite continued overseas weaknesses, and offering hope for a rebound in the second half of the year.
Unemployment at 8.3 percent remains too high. The new positive data won't bring it down by much before Election Day. But momentum and direction also count in politics.
For now, both campaigns are sticking to their story lines.
Obama risks appearing out of touch with reality if he crows about a few upbeat numbers. He says things are improving but acknowledges challenges remain.
Romney's central theme is he'd do better than Obama at fixing the economy. Period.
Romney Wednesday accused Obama anew of campaigning on "division and attack and hatred" just to keep his job. He rejected a claim by the Obama campaign that he'd appeared "unhinged" in recent jabs.
"I think 'unhinged' would have to characterize what we've seen from the president's campaign," Romney told "CBS This Morning."
Obama was wrapping up a three-day Iowa bus trip. Romney had fundraisers in North Carolina and Alabama. Vice President Joe Biden and his GOP counterpart, Rep. Paul Ryan of Wisconsin, were hitting college campuses — Biden at Virginia Tech in Blacksburg, Va., and Ryan at Miami University in Oxford, Ohio.
Follow Tom Raum on Twitter: http://www.twitter.com/tomraum. For more AP political coverage, look for the 2012 Presidential Race in AP Mobile's Big Stories section. Also follow https://twitter.com/APCampaign and AP journalists covering the campaign: https://twitter.com/AP/ap-campaign-2012