Without his experience in government, Romney would have less credibility in his presidential bid. Throughout American history, the surest path to the presidency is to serve first as a governor; nearly half of America's presidents were governor first. So before going into Romney’s record in the Bay State, just the fact that he sat in that chief executive chair for four years is a plus.
When Romney took office in early 2003, the dotcom bubble had burst and the Massachusetts economy was struggling. He promised to use his business expertise to help the state grow its workforce. But he had limited success. Massachusetts ranked 47th in job creation during his term, as his Republican primary opponents noted. Still, the Romney campaign is armed with data to make a positive case for his tenure.
“As governor he confronted an economy very similar to Obama’s economy: high unemployment and no job creation,” said Andrea Saul, Romney’s spokeswoman, in a statement last February. “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.”
Economists say unemployment dropped during his tenure because people were leaving the workforce. But Romney makes other arguments to show he left the Massachusetts economy better than when he took office.
When Romney was sworn in, he faced a significant budget shortfall, and through spending cuts, higher fees, and closed corporate tax loopholes, the state ran surpluses in his final two years. After he left office, however, the state budget went back into deficit.
Romney’s signature accomplishment as governor is passage of health-care reform; nearly 98 percent of the state’s residents are now covered. As he runs for president, this is both an asset and a liability, depending on his audience.
At least Romney isn’t touting the economy under his leadership as a “Massachusetts miracle,” as the state’s last governor to run for president – Michael Dukakis (D) – did in 1988. Romney has not opened himself up to charges of overselling his performance as governor as much as Mr. Dukakis did.