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Job growth under Republican governors presents challenge for Romney, help for Obama

Published: Monday, July 9 2012 10:56 a.m. MDT

Michigan Governor Rick Snyder, right, introduces Republican presidential candidate, former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney and his wife Ann Romney during a campaign stop at Bavarian Inn Lodge on Tuesday, June 19, 2012 in Frankenmuth, Mich.

Associated Press

States like Florida and Wisconsin are seeing economic growth and President Barack Obama wants some credit, but Republican governors say their states are succeeding in spite of the federal government — not because of it.

"To deny we've made progress over the last three years doesn't make sense," Obama said during a speech at the end of June. "I've noticed as I've traveled around the country there are a lot of Republican governors who are starting to take credit for improvements in the economy except when I show up and then suddenly they think we had nothing to do with it."

The president's remarks came a week after a Bloomberg report suggested that Republican Mitt Romney was facing a governor dilemma. GOP governors are touting improved economic conditions in their states, but have collided with Romney's efforts to tie an anemic U.S. economy to Obama in the process. This, in turn, has given the president the chance to talk about and take credit for bettering the economy.

In his Bloomberg story, reporter Michael C. Bender wrote that the Romney campaign asked Florida Gov. Rick Scott to tone down his praise for economic improvements in his state. A Scott spokesman said the report was inaccurate and that nobody from the Romney campaign had reached out to the Florida Republican, but that didn't stop the Obama Truth Team from releasing a fake memo about the reported conversation.

"Rick, I see you've been touting Florida's improving economy — please stop," the fake memo said. "Your facts are undermining my contention that Barack Obama is stifling the recovery, which is my whole platform. And if you see Governors Kasich, Snyder, Walker, and McDonnell, it would be marvelous if you could pass the word along to them too."

The governors mentioned in the faked memo are all Republicans elected during the 2010 GOP wave, in which new Republican leaders took or kept governorships in Alabama, Florida, Georgia, Iowa, Kansas, Maine, Michigan, New Mexico, North Dakota, Nevada, Ohio, Oklahoma, Pennsylvania, South Carolina, South Dakota, Tennessee, Wisconsin and Wyoming. The current breakdown between Republican governors and Democratic governors is 29 to 20, with one Independent. Republicans also took over at least 19 Democratic-held chambers in the 2010 election.

Since then, the states mentioned in the fake memo, as well as other Republican-controlled states, have seen economic growth.

Chief Executive listed the 2012 top 10 states for business based on taxation and regulations, workforce quality and the living environment. The states, from No. 1 to No. 10, were: Texas, Florida, North Carolina, Tennessee, Indiana, Virginia, South Carolina, Georgia, Utah and Arizona. North Carolina is the only one with a Democratic governor. The state moved down one spot from its 2011 rank while Georgia dropped 3. The status of the other states remained unchanged or improved from last year's listing.

An examination of the unemployment data in states that flipped to Republican governors in 2010 shows that from May 2011 to May 2012, Florida saw a drop in unemployment from 10.6 percent to 8.6, Iowa from 6.0 to 5.1, Michigan from 10.6 to 8.5, Ohio from 8.8 to 7.3, Oklahoma from 5.9 to 4.8, Tennessee from 9.4 to 7.9 and Wisconsin from 7.6 to 6.8. Kansas has a current level of 6.1 percent, Maine of 7.4, New Mexico of 6.7, Pennsylvania of 7.4 and Wyoming of 5.2 percent. The national average is 8.2 percent.

States that flipped from Republican to Democrat — California, Connecticut, Hawaii, Minnesota and Vermont — also saw drops, with California moving from 11.9 in 2011 to 10.8 in 2012 and Connecticut from 8.9 to 7.8. Unemployment in Hawaii, Minnesota and Vermont sat at 6.3, 5.6 and 4.6 percent respectively.

A Daily Caller report broke down Bureau of Labor Statistics employment data and found that Republican governors and GOP-controlled state legislatures presided over 16 percent more job creation than their Democratic peers from January 2010 to April 2012.

During a June interview with CNN's Candy Crowley, Gov. Bob McDonnell, R-Va., was pressed about who deserved credit for Virginia's economic growth.

"Don't you credit President Obama at all for the good fortune that Virginia has?" Crowley asked. "He's done nothing at all that helped you all?"

"He had nearly a trillion dollars in stimulus and that was one-time spending. Did that help us in the short-run with health care and education spending? Did it balance the budget? Sure. Does it help us in the long-term to really cut, cut the unemployment rate? I'd say no," McDonnell said. "I think there's national policies that have had some impact, but I can tell you this: if we didn't have all these attacks on Virginia's energy industry, we'd be in a lot better shape."

McDonnell went on to say that Republicans and Democrats working together in Virginia helped to focus on economic development, targeted tax cuts and other measures that have made a difference in the state. McDonnell also said he doesn't see economic growth in the states as a bad thing for Romney.

"Two reasons," McDonnell said. "One is, as well as we've been fortunate to do with the lowest unemployment in the southeast, I tell people, 'Think how much better we'd do if we had President Romney.' And number two, I think that there's something going on with Republican-governed states. Seven out of the 10 states, Candy, nationwide, that have the lowest unemployment rates: Republican-governed states."

Florida Gov. Rick Scott's spokesman echoed this point, saying, "The economy in Florida is improving despite the policies coming out of Washington. We're hoping to continue that but we need a partner in Washington that sees we can grow jobs if we do the right thing, and we think Romney should be that partner."

"Our message has always been pretty clear, and I've told Romney this myself: We're improving, we're up 94,000 jobs, which is great, but we still have the wind in our face," Ohio Gov. John Kasich told The Columbus Dispatch. "When you have all this uncertainty out of Washington, you have a problem. So with a Romney presidency, you're going to eliminate a lot of the uncertainty that's keeping investment on the side."

With growth in their states — some of which are critical swing states — Republican governors are aware that their economies may be impacting the presidential race and perhaps even helping President Obama make his case for reelection.

"If you look at not only Wisconsin, but a number of key swing states, there's Republican governors in those states who have put in place aggressive policies that have helped turn the economy around," Gov. Scott Walker, R-Wis., told Talking Points Memo. "And so, oddity of oddities, one of the beneficiaries of that might be the president."

A recent Daily Beast article headline claimed that, "despite Obama's policies, the Rust Belt's revival could save his campaign." The article went on to say that "Rust Belt" no longer seems like a pejorative, as the northern industrial states now have unemployment rates below those of California, Nevada, Florida and South Carolina.

Rick Platt, an industrial development official in Newark, told The Daily Beast that credit for the region's recovery goes to the economic policies of Republican governors in Ohio, Michigan and Wisconsin, and pointed out that Obama's home state, Democrat-controlled Illinois, has the region's highest unemployment rate at 8.6 percent.

In contrast, defenders have argued that gains in the Republican-led states have come because of Obama's policies, such as the auto bailout. Ethan Pollack of the liberal Economic Policy Institute told The Daily Caller that the biggest factor to growth in Republican-led states was the 2009 stimulus bill and the auto bailout in Ohio. Since the 2009 stimulus was passed, states now led by Democrats have received more than $237 billion dollars, and states now led by Republicans have received more than $244 billion dollars, according to ProPublica.

"While there is still more work to be done, Ohio is helping lead the nation out of the recession," Aaron Pickrell, a senior adviser for the Obama campaign in Ohio, told the Springfield News-Sun. "Romney's doom and gloom message about the president's policies are both laughable and being proven wrong by what is happening in Ohio."

Business and GOP leaders told The Wall Street Journal that the General Motors and Chrysler bailout gave the state a boost, but that Gov. Kasich's policies have also helped.

The tone of the credit-seeking is vastly different from that of Robert Schlesinger's January 2012 article in U.S. News suggesting that Walker, Kasich, Snyder and Scott would win the election for Obama by ruining the economies of their respective states. Norman J. Ornstein predicted a similar outcome in a June 2011 article, citing the "growing unpopularity of the Republican governors and state legislatures."

Rather than focusing on the weak economic growth nationwide, GOP governors have urged Romney to tailor his message in order to better highlight success stories under Republican-led states.

"Romney should be saying, 'Let's do what Kasich is doing or Walker is doing or McDonnell is doing in the states where things are looking good,'" Iowa Gov. Terry Branstad told The Wall Street Journal. "He should be seizing that momentum and spotlighting it."

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