Mitt Romney walks fine line on economy
By: Ginger Gibson
April 19, 2012 04:14 PM EST

LORAIN, Ohio — Mitt Romney is walking a fine line: How do you blame President Obama for the economy without also pointing the finger at his Republican predecessor?

The likely GOP nominee has been highlighting the nation’s economic woes by tying Obama to the struggling economy. But sometimes, Romney’s argument gets muddled by the fact that the economy began souring under George W. Bush.

Take Romney’s trip here on Thursday to a shuttered plant that made sheet-rock, a commodity that took a nose dive with the housing collapse.

Romney’s campaign hung a large banner declaring “Obama isn’t working” above the empty, dusty factory floor, which once held equipment that has since been packed up and shipped to factories in other parts of the country. Abandoned stacks of sheet-rock remained piled in the corner.

But the factory — which was chosen because Obama campaigned there in the 2008 Democratic primary — was closed not by Obama but by President Bush.

“This factory used to have people working in it. The people who are no longer working here have families,” Romney said. “They used to be able to shop, go out to restaurants for dinner now and then or go to a movie or – and they’re not able to do those things like they were before. So those other enterprises had to lay off people.”

“Americans are hurting because of the lack of jobs under this president’s term,” Romney said. “And his failure to end the recession and to start creating jobs.”

An Obama spokeswoman pointed out the irony.

“In a speech that he concluded by saying he’d ‘tell the truth,’ Mitt Romney managed not to tell the truth about President Obama’s record and his own failed record in Massachusetts — all while blaming the President for a plant closing that occurred before he took office,” Obama spokeswoman Lis Smith said.

In his 18-minute remarks, Romney acknowledged that the plant was closed before Obama took office, and speaking to a crowd of about 250, blamed the president for the fact that it hadn’t reopened.

“Had President Obama’s plans worked, it would be open by now,” Romney said. “But it’s still empty and it underscores the failures of this president’s policies in regards to getting the economy going again.”

It’s a delicate dance for the Romney campaign and one that is already causing problems for it as the campaign works to make the election about Obama’s economic policy, especially at a time when indicators show a steady economic improvement.

Last week, Romney began pushing an eye-popping unemployment statistic — that 92 percent of jobs lost under Obama have been held by women.

But independent fact checkers and Democrats were quick to counter the factoid, arguing that those who lost job during the heart of the recession were overwhelmingly men and the sectors that traditionally employ women were just slower to feel the pain.

Fact-checkers argued that the numbers get skewed when they begin an arbitrary date, like the inauguration, instead of at a point in the economic cycle, like the start of the recession or its lowest point.

The Romney campaign blasted its critics, but it did little to undo the image that the number isn’t an honest depiction of the economy or a fair attack line against the president.

The campaign is also pushing back against the notion that it is Bush, not Obama, who should be held accountable for the sluggish economy.

“At some point you have to stop looking backward and pointing the finger of blame at your predecessor and you have to stop attacking the opposing party,” Romney strategist Eric Fehrnstrom said after Thursday’s speech. “This president has more excuses than anyone else I know for his record of failure. It’s time for him to own up to the fact that his policies have not restored economic prosperity to this country.”

Fehrnstrom rattled off a list of problems that he said should be put placed squarely on the White House’s doorstep.

“We can’t be satisfied with continued high unemployment, above 7 or 8 percent, record foreclosures, high gas prices. [Obama] has failed to make it better for Americans,” he said.

But even those statistics are problematic for the Romney campaign.

The home foreclosure rate is declining. Gas prices are high, but not higher than their pre-recession peak and only took a tumble in 2008 when the market crash drove down oil prices. The unemployment rate has also been decreasing.

Ohio’s unemployment rate falls below the national average and GOP Gov. John Kasich, who endorsed Romney on Thursday, has said the conditions in the state are improving.

But Fehrnstom insists the outlook could be better.

“I think what Gov. Kasich is looking for is a partner in the federal government who will not impede the recovery,” Fehrnstrom said.