As Mitt Romney's campaign pounds President Obama's stewardship over the economy, Obama is trying to flip the argument against his Republican opponent by slamming Romney's own job creation record as governor of Massachusetts.
The Obama campaign's new line of attack centers on a single statistic: Massachusetts ranked 47th in job growth when Romney was running the state between 2003 and 2007.
During that time, Massachusetts had a net gain of 39,700 nonfarm jobs, an increase of about 1.3 percent, according to U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. That was far below the national average of 5.3 percent growth at that time, according to the nonpartisan PolitiFact.com. Only Ohio, Michigan and Louisiana did worse than Massachusetts at the time.
The Romney campaign is not disputing the data. Instead, it's highlighting a different set of facts: Massachusetts' overall unemployment rate during Romney's tenure actually dropped from 5.6 percent in January 2003 to 4.7 percent in January 2007.
"This is another desperate attack from President Obama because he has no positive record to run on," said Romney campaign spokeswoman Andrea Saul. "Mitt Romney created more jobs in the state of Massachusetts than President Obama has for the entire nation."
The U.S. was losing jobs at a staggering rate of 650,000 per month when Obama took office in January 2009. Over the last six months, the country has been adding an average of 200,000 jobs a month, far more than the 39,700 jobs Massachusetts added under Romney, federal statistics show.
While the United States is no longer losing jobs, it is still a long way from recovering all of the jobs it has lost over the last 39 months. Employment in April stood at 133 million, down by 572,000 from January 2009, when Obama took office. And while the nation's unemployment has dropped slightly in recent months, it remains at 8.1 percent, up from 7.8 percent at the start of Obama's term.
However the campaigns slice the statistics, economists say the battle between Obama and Romney over their records on job creation is ultimately a futile exercise.
"There is way too much made out of the job records of different candidates," said Jeffrey Miron, the director of undergraduate studies at Harvard University's Department of Economics. "It's very, very hard to attribute specific improvements, or lack of improvements, in the economy to particular governors or presidents."
Still, Obama's campaign plans to make Romney's jobs record a central issue in the campaign over the next couple months, marking a shift from its recent focus on the number of jobs Romney created -- or cut SEmD as CEO of the private equity firm Bain Capital.