Forty-seven is a number that could disrupt Mitt Romney’s campaign.
During his tenure as governor from 2003 to 2007, Massachusetts ranked 47th among states for job creation. He’s running on his ability to turn around the flailing economy and boost employment, so this is a statistic that appeals enormously to his opponents.
Jon Huntsman’s campaign released a Web video this week that highlighted the difference between his record (first in the nation for job creation) and Romney’s. Rick Perry, campaigning in South Carolina, dismissively noted that while Romney “was the governor of Massachusetts, he didn’t create many jobs.” At last night’s debate, moderator Brian Williams highlighted the statistic in the first question directed at Romney: “Despite your own private-sector experience, as you know, Massachusetts ranked only 47th in job creation during your tenure as governor.”
The Romney campaign doesn’t challenge the statistic, but argues that focusing on job creation alone misses crucial context regarding what Romney achieved in office.
“Governor Romney took office in the midst of a recession and presided over a reversal in the state’s fortunes,” says Romney spokeswoman Andrea Saul. “As governor he confronted an economy very similar to Obama’s economy: high unemployment and no job creation. However, under his leadership and economic reforms, the Massachusetts unemployment rate went from 5.6 percent to 4.7 percent, and the state had a positive record of nearly 50,000 new jobs created.”
“He came in between as the recovery was just about to begin, and then he left before the next recession hit. So the economy was beginning to recover, but we had been hit particularly hard by the dot-com bust,” observes Michael Widmer, president of the Massachusetts Taxpayers Foundation. Bolstering Widmer’s point is a 2007 study done by Massachusetts Institute for a New Economy that found the Bay State had the most severe job loss in light of the high-tech sector’s downfall. While the national average was a 2 percent job loss, Massachusetts suffered one of 6 percent.
Another factor is Massachusetts’s political climate. Romney didn’t get to work with a conservative GOP legislature, like Perry and Huntsman did. Instead, he faced such a hostile legislature that out of the over 800 line-item vetoes he made, the legislature overrode more than 700.
“Romney in one term couldn’t turn around that ship here with that kind of legislature,” observes Jim Stergois, who worked in the Romney administration and is now president of a Massachusetts think tank, the Pioneer Institute. Romney made that argument during the debate, pointing out that Texas was a right-to-work state with a Republican legislature and supreme court. “Those are wonderful things, but Governor Perry doesn’t believe that he created those things,” Romney said. “If he tried to say that, well, it would be like Al Gore saying he invented the Internet.”
Widmer doesn’t think that Romney did as much as he could have to combat the low job-creation numbers.
“Did the Romney administration address the high cost of business in any full blown or strategic way?” Widmer asks. “The short answer is: No, they did not really have any kind of strategy to address our high business costs.”
Romney doesn’t tend to focus on what could have been if he’d had a different kind of legislature, but instead highlights what he did achieve during his time.
“I’m happy to take a look at the Massachusetts record, because when I came in as governor, we were in a real freefall,” Romney said at the debate last night. “We were losing jobs every month. We had a budget that was way out of balance. So I came into office, we went to work as a team, and we were able to turn around the job losses. And at the end of four years, we had our unemployment rate down to 4.7 percent. That’s a record I think the president would like to see.”
Then he delivered the kicker.
“As a matter of fact,” Romney added, “we created more jobs in Massachusetts than this president has created in the entire country.”
— Katrina Trinko is an NRO reporter.