Mitt Romney has been dogged by an unfortunate statistic for his entire campaign: When he was governor, Massachusetts ranked 47th in job creation. President Obama’s campaign has ramped up the attack this week in response to Romney’s assertion that he knows how to create jobs — a fact he says is backed up by his record in the private sector. Sunday, Romney’s campaign struck back with a new line of defense: Romney stepped into a serious situation and improved it.
If it sounds familiar, it should — it’s the same line of reasoning that Obama is using to persuade voters to stick with his policies.
Twice on Sunday, Romney’s advisers appeared on television armed with different numbers than the ones wielded by the Obama campaign. On ABC’s “This Week,” Obama’s deputy campaign manager Stephanie Cutter and top Romney adviser Eric Fehrnstrom duked it out over Romney’s Massachusetts record.
Massachusetts “did fall to 47th out of 50 in jobs creation,” Cutter said on ABC’s “This Week.” “Wages went down when they were going up in the rest of the country. He left his successor with debt and a deficit, and manufacturing jobs left that state at twice the rate as the rest of the country.”
Fehrnstrom disputed the stat. “Can I just say, on the jobs question, because this comes up repeatedly that Massachusetts was 47 out of 50 in terms of jobs growth,” he said. “Actually, when Mitt Romney arrived, Massachusetts was an economic basket house. If you throw D.C. into the mix, we were 51 out of 51. By the time Mitt Romney left four years later, we were in the middle of the pack. We were 30th in the nation in terms of job growth.”
Cutter responded that her numbers were from the Bureau of Labor Statistics. Fehrnstrom swore his were as well.
Obama campaign spokesperson Lis Smith disputed the numbers trotted out by the Romney campaign Sunday in a press release, via National Review Online: “For the four years under Mitt Romney’s Republican predecessor, Massachusetts ranked 36th in job creation. During Mitt Romney’s four years as governor, Massachusetts ranked 47th.”
Senior Romney adviser Ed Gillespie had a similar exchange with “Fox News Sunday” host Chris Wallace. “When [Romney] took office it was No. 50 in job creation. Actually 51 if you count the District of Columbia,” Gillespie said.
Wallace: “We will check out the numbers.”
Gillespie: “Well, check it out, OK? And when ended his term in office, his four years in office, it was number 30. So, he moved it dramatically.”
Wallace: “Over the four years, it was 47th. There was no question about that.”
Behind the Romney campaign’s numbers is an argument that actually mirrors what the Obama campaign has been saying about the president’s job-creation record. The Romney team is arguing that Obama is not taking into account the fact that Romney inherited a tough situation.
“This is what they’re doing, Chris,” Gillespie said. “You take the first year, which is a low base year when the governor came in and took office, because it was 50th in job creation out of all of the states, dead last … and they’re averaging out over the four years. So, they are bringing down the gains of his fourth year in office, which shows the real impact of his policies and diluting it with the first year in office.”
Gillespie’s defense echoes Obama’s justification for his own record. The Romney campaign argues that Obama has presided over a net loss in jobs. They reach that figure by counting job losses that were a result of the economic crisis and happened before Obama’s policies were enacted or even took effect, including jobs lost in January 2009 before Obama’s inauguration.
“The president said back in 2009 and the country was losing 800,000 jobs a day that it took years to get into this mess and it was going to take long, persistent effort to get us out of it,” senior Obama campaign adviser David Axelrod said Sunday on CBS’s “Face the Nation.” “He took some tough decisions, the auto intervention being a major one. And we’ve had 27 months of private sector job growth now and 4.2 million jobs created, or 4.3 [million].”
Pema Levy is a News Writer at TPM covering the 2012 election. Before coming to TPM, Pema was an assistant editor at The American Prospect where she wrote about politics and the economy.