Mitt Romney's governorship: Asset or liability?

The Week

President Obama's campaign and Team Romney both see fertile ground in the former governor's one term as Massachusetts chief, but both sides can't be right

President Obama's campaign has pivoted from criticizing Mitt Romney's business record at Bain Capital to ripping into his arguably more relevant term as governor of Massachusetts, from 2003 to 2007. In a new TV ad Team Obama charges that during Romney's tenure, the Bay State was ranked No. 47 of 50 in job creation and it actually shed 40,000 manufacturing jobs, Romney accumulated $2.6 billion in debt and raised taxes on the middle class. Romney's campaign counters that as governor its candidate inherited an economic mess, balanced the budget, and led a turnaround so that by 2006, Massachusetts was 30th in job creation. All those figures have all been scored, roughly speaking, as accurate. But do they add up to a net win for Romney, or for Obama?

Romney's Bay State record could bite him hard: Obama's Bain attacks were deceptive, unpersuasive, and irrelevant, says Dan Turner at the Los Angeles Times. His critique of Romney's tenure as governor, on the other hand, hits the bull's-eye. It not only digs into a subject "that's directly relevant to Romney's skills as a government leader, it devastatingly belies the GOP hopeful's claims that he is a job creator — probably the key platform of his campaign." And the news that he raised the gas tax, user fees, and the tax burden for businesses is poison for "the independent who will decide the November election."
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No, his governorship is an underused asset: This Obama line of attack has "possible potency," but Romney should still welcome it, says Alex Roarty at National Journal. It made sense for Romney to brush aside this "four-year stint marked by bipartisan achievement" in blue Massachusetts during the GOP primaries. But embracing his past as a moderate now would take Romney a long way toward dispelling Obama's charge that he's a "a rapacious capitalist or right-wing extremist." Besides, governors have a great track record in presidential races.
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What Romney did in Massachusetts is irrelevant: Obama is throwing the "job killer" label at Romney, an attack that Republicans have been using for the past three years, says Rick Newman at U.S. News. That would work, if only "because of the enduring myth that politicians can control the economy." But the truth is, "it's hard to draw any lessons from Romney's four years as governor that would reveal how he'd handle the problems the U.S. economy faces now." That doesn't mean Obama and the pundits will stop trying.
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