TALLAHASSEE -- Numbers may not lie, but Republicans Mitt Romney and Gov. Rick Scott are using them to portray two very conflicting points of view about Florida’s economic picture. In a new television ad, the Romney campaign plays melancholy music as it describes “Obama’s Florida” as a state with “8.6 percent unemployment, record foreclosures, 600,000 more Floridians in poverty.”
Scott greets the same 8.6 percent unemployment number as a sign of rapid improvement, proclaiming on his website that it is “the lowest it’s been since December 2008!”
Unlike Romney, Scott has carefully avoided criticizing the president and instead turned the data into promoting his record of creating jobs.
The governor also tells audiences that “the number of unemployed has gone from 568,000 to 320,000,” “median home prices are up,” and Florida’s job growth rate “has been positive for 23 consecutive months.”
It’s a dissonance that may become more distinct as Romney and Scott take the stage during the Republican National Convention this month and as Romney tours Florida on Monday, with a late-day stop in Miami.
“What I’m going to talk about is pretty much what I do every day, what I ran on,” Scott said last week when asked what he’ll say during his convention speech. “It’s how do we get our state back to work.”
But the numbers he cites don’t jibe with the narrative that Romney’s campaign wants Floridians to hear. As the expected Republican nominee for the presidency, Romney’s team is carefully scripting a convention playbook that would persuade voters that the economy is still in the tank after 3 1/2 years under President Obama.
With an abundance of statistical data, each candidate can cherry-pick the numbers to best fit his Florida narrative.
A Romney campaign missive, for example, lists the statistics that make up “Obama’s Florida Record.” The list includes: “795,432 Unemployed Floridians Seeking Work; 676,535 Floridians Who Have Fallen Into Poverty; 105,000 Florida Jobs Lost; $3,369 Decline In Florida’s Median Income; and 45 Percent of All Mortgaged Florida Homes Underwater.”
The real numbers tell an even different story.
When Obama took office in January 2009, Florida’s unemployment was at 8.7 percent, nearly identical to where it is today. It rose to 11.4 percent in January 2010, had dropped to 10.9 percent by the time Rick Scott took office in January 2011 and has been dropping somewhat steadily since.
Scott takes credit for the drop in the unemployment rate in a television ad that ran in June, in frequent speeches, as well as on Republican Party and Scott’s campaign websites. The governor makes no mention of the fact that Obama was in charge during that time, too.
Unlike Romney, however, Scott does not focus on the shrinking labor market or the jobs lost, most of which were in construction and the public sector. Instead, he touts the “127,000 private-sector jobs that have been added in Florida” — which Romney’s campaign doesn’t mention.
Chris McCarty, an economist with the University of Florida, said the truth about Florida’s economy lies somewhere in-between the Scott and Romney narratives, which tend to pin all troubles on the federal government and attribute all successes to the state.