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As political commentators debated whether the Democratic National Convention would give President Barack Obama a significant "bump" in the race for the White House, U.S. Sen. Jeanne Shaheen indicated Obama at least has Granite Staters’ support.
The former governor of New Hampshire, identified as a "longtime friend and ally" of Clinton, was a guest on a segment of MSNBC’s The Daily Rundown called "The Clinton Contribution" leading up to the former president’s speech in Charlotte on Sept. 5.
During the three-minute spot, Shaheen predicted that Clinton would show how Obama best identifies with middle America’s concerns, and discussed the close 2012 presidential race in her swing state.
"This election is close everywhere and I think New Hampshire reflects that," Shaheen said. "But the fact that Barack Obama is still leading slightly in New Hampshire despite the fact that -- that Mitt Romney has a home there, that he was governor of Massachusetts, our neighboring state, I think is a reflection of people’s remembering what Romney did in Massachusetts. You know, when he was governor, Massachusetts was 47th in job creation, so we need better than that in a president."
PolitiFact has had heard this claim about Bay State job creation under Romney more than once.
In fact, the day before Shaheen cited the statistic, PolitiFact gave Massachusetts Gov. Deval Patrick, the Democrat who succeeded Romney in 2006, a Half True for using it in his speech at the convention.
PolitiFact New Hampshire reached out to Shaheen about the claim. Spokesperson Faryl Ury cited a Market Watch story from February 2010 that cites U.S. Labor Department statistics showing Massachusetts ranked fourth from last in the country in jobs growth from January 2003 to January 2007 -- Romney’s time in office.
But the article failed to present any new data that would challenge what has been deemed a partially accurate Democratic talking point for more than a year.
Here’s a quick summary: PolitiFact handed Obama’s campaign adviser David Axelrod a Half True for the same claim in June 2011. And nearly a year later, Axelrod earned another Half True for repeating it.
Democrats have repeated the statement so many times, the Romney campaign came up with a counterattack -- that Massachusetts under Romney initially ranked last among states in job growth, but by the end of his governorship, "we were in the middle of the pack." That got a Half True as well.
PolitiFact’s usual approach is to look at the claim in two parts: First, are the numbers correct, and second, how much was the change because of Romney's policies?
We used state-level statistics from the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the federal government’s official source of employment data, specifically figures for non-farm jobs, seasonally adjusted. And because the Massachusetts governor takes office in early January, we used the data for December of each year as a baseline.
From December 2002 to December 2006, Massachusetts ranked 47th out of 50 states (not including the District of Columbia) in job growth. (We calculated that by using the number of jobs at the beginning and end of the period for each state to determine the percentage change and then ranking the states.) Only Ohio, Louisiana and Michigan fared worse.
So the number is correct.
But does Romney deserve credit for the job situation? This is an issue we've addressed often at PolitiFact with governors from many states. Economists have consistently told us that policies of a governor have a relatively small impact on a state's economy.
For instance, the country was coming out of a recession when Romney took office. And it's likely that Massachusetts emerged more slowly from that recession because its pre-recession numbers were disproportionately inflated by the technology bubble, said Michael Widmer, president of the Massachusetts Taxpayers Foundation, an independent group that analyzes fiscal trends in the state. A lot of those tech jobs never came back.
Widmer warned us when we first looked at Axelrod’s 47th-in-the-nation claim in June 2011 not to put too much stock in any governor's influence over their state's rate of job growth. The ability for governors to manage the state economy is vastly overrated, Widmer said. States are tied to larger economic forces, he added, and governors often claim too much credit when things are going well and no blame when things are going poorly.
Gary Burtless, an economist with the Brookings Institution, echoed that point.
"Presidents, governors, and mayors can have an impact on job creation during their terms in office," he said. "Almost always, however, the impact is small in relation to the effects of events and trends over which elected officials have little control, especially in their first few years on the job. A recession that is underway or begins soon after a president or governor takes office is in no way the fault of the new officeholder. The flip side is that chief executives cannot claim much credit for a strong economic recovery that begins shortly before or after they take the oath of office. The conditions that made the recovery possible were already present when their term in office began. The executive’s policies may have speeded or slowed the recovery around the margins, but the conditions that caused the recovery to begin were already present before the oath of office was administered."
(As we’ve noted before, Burtless contributed $750 to Obama’s campaign in 2011. However, in 2008 he provided advice on aspects of labor policy to the presidential campaign of Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., and he has worked as a government economist and served on federal advisory panels under presidents of both parties.)
It’s correct that Massachusetts ranked 47th of 50 in job creation on Romney’s watch.
However, Shaheen -- like Democrats before her and the Romney camp in its rebuttal -- exaggerates Romney’s influence on the state job market.
Governors simply don't have that much impact. Shaheen gets a Half True.
MSNBC, The Daily Rundown "The Clinton contribution," Sept. 5, 2012.
PolitiFact, "Did Mitt Romney's Massachusetts rank 47th in job creation?" Sept. 4, 2012.
Email correspondence with Shaheen spokesperson Faryl Ury, Sept. 12, 2012.
Market Watch, "Mitt Romney plays the jobs card," Feb. 23, 2010.
PolitiFact,"Dems say under Gov. Mitt Romney, Massachusetts ranked 47th out of 50 states in job creation," June 22, 2011
PolitiFact, "David Axelrod repeats claim that Massachusetts under Mitt Romney ranked 47th in job growth," June 5, 2012
Interview with Gary Burtless, senior fellow at the Brookings Institution, Feb. 28, 2012.
Bureau of Labor Statistics, main index pagefor "Employment, Hours, and Earnings - State and Metro Area (Current Employment Statistics - CES)," accessed June 5, 2012.
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