By Steve Holland
MANCHESTER, N.H. (Reuters) - A stronger-than-expected U.S. economic report on Friday came at a good time for Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton, although Republican contender Donald Trump's campaign blasted the numbers as "dismal."
The Commerce Department reported that the economy grew at a 2.9 percent annual rate in the third quarter, its fastest pace in two years and higher than the expected 2.6 percent, thanks to a surge in exports and a rebound in investment.
With just 11 days to go before the Nov. 8 election, the report bolstered Clinton, who has positioned herself as the best candidate to continue years of economic expansion under President Barack Obama.
More Americans say jobs and the economy are their No.1 priority when they decide who to vote for than any other issue.
Trump argues that as a successful businessman and political outsider, he is the best person to take a new approach to rebuilding an economy that has sent too many jobs overseas and left many Americans struggling to find decent jobs.
His campaign said the figures are still not good enough.
"America can do better than the modest growth of 2.9 percent recorded for the 3rd quarter and the dismal growth of 1.5 percent for the past year," Dan Kowalski, Trump's deputy policy director, said in a statement.
"Growth hasn't risen above 3 percent for a full year in any year of the Obama presidency," he said.
While many voters do not follow economic indicators closely, outside experts said the release was still a good one for Clinton. She is seeking to solidify her lead in opinion polls as the Democratic Party works to win as many seats as possible in the U.S. Senate and House of Representatives, where Republicans now control majorities.
"Today's release will likely improve the perception of economic conditions in the U.S. and slightly increase the odds of a Democratic president remaining in the White House," said Brian Schaitkin, senior economist at the Conference Board.
Clinton's camp said Friday's report showed "real progress" since Obama took office in 2009, when the country was struggling to emerge from economic recession.
"With more than 15 million jobs created since early 2010 and real median incomes growing more than 5 percent last year, it's clear we've made real progress coming back from the crisis," Clinton senior policy advisor Jacob Leibenluft said in a statement.
But he added that there is still more that can be done.
Clinton was campaigning on Friday in Iowa, where polls show she and Trump running neck-and-neck, and in Michigan, a traditionally Democratic state hit hard by the movement offshore of many formerly well-paying American manufacturing jobs.
Trump was holding rallies in Iowa as well as in another closely contested swing state, New Hampshire, and in Maine, where his campaign sees a chance to grab one of four electoral votes.
In the last weeks of the campaign, Clinton has dramatically widened her advantage over Trump in ad spending, amid questions over the celebrity businessman's pledge to contribute more than $100 million of his own money.
He spent $56 million through the end of September, and only $31,000 since, according to filings.
Trump campaign manager Kellyanne Conway said on Fox News reports that the candidate has stopped putting his own money into his campaign are not true. "He has said publicly many times he is in for $100 million and he is happy to invest in his campaign," she said.
(Additional reporting by Doina Chiacu and Patricia Zengerle in Washington; Writing by Patricia Zengerle; Editing by Alistair Bell)