January 21, 2008, 12:56 am
The economy may be the number one issue in Florida and the issue on which the GOP frontrunner is determined. The emails from ever- active camp Romney are starting once again going after his opponents (especially McCain). Certainly, Romney has an appeal as a business leader that other candidates lack. However, he has several problems of his own.
First, Romney pointedly declined to support the Bush tax cuts to the delight of Democrats at the time. Rudy supported them. McCain at least articulated a rationale for his opposition– his insistence that budget cuts be included with tax reduction. Romney never has explained his equivocation. Second, Romney’s tenure as Governor of Massachusetts was mediocre. CATO gave him a “C” and for good reason. This summarizes the key problem for him : “On all key labor market measures, the state not only lagged behind the country as a whole, but often ranked at or near the bottom of the state distribution. Formal payroll employment in the state in 2006 was still 16,000 or 0.5 percent below its average level in 2002, the year immediately prior to the start of the Romney administration. Massachusetts ranked third lowest on this key job generation measure and would have ranked second lowest if Hurricane Katrina had not devastated the Louisiana economy. Manufacturing payroll employment throughout the nation declined by nearly 1.1 million or 7 percent between 2002 and 2006, but in Massachusetts it declined by more than 14 percent, the third worst record in the country.” Massachusetts has yet to recover jobs lost in the 2001 recession. On taxes, he claims to have held to his 2002 campaign promise not to raise taxes but his $500M in fees and loophole closings will be an issue.(Club for Growth details the numbers here. Others put the number at $700M). Finally, although Romney offers himself as a businessman/outsider alternative to the Washington politicians, he has demonstrated a rather naive infatuation with the ability of government to effect economic and social progress –indeed a preference for government over the power of markets. In touting RomneyCare and more recently Michigan autocare he seems more than willing to trust government rather than trust free markets.
Does this mean that Romney will lose in Florida ? Not necessarily. He now offers a robust tax reduction plan and has put out a new more market oriented healthcare plan. That may be good enough for many voters. But it is plain that Romney has significant handicaps of his own which in a multi-candidate race will not go unnoticed. UPDATE: Reuters summarizes many of these issues here.