Which GOP governor can make best economic case in '16?
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Seven governors are among the possible contenders for the Republican presidential nomination in 2016, and all will be making their state economic records a pivotal part of their campaign pitch. 

“If you are a governor who has been able to successfully preside over a state’s economy and show either a balanced budget or job growth, that’s an incredible asset on the campaign trail,” said GOP strategist Ron Bonjean. “If they can successfully run a state economy, they can make a reasonable argument that they will be able to do the same for the national economy.”


Of the seven declared or potential GOP candidates in question, some are in office right now, while others have not wielded power for almost a decade.

An analysis by The Hill, primarily focused on their records on jobs, has revealed those who have the strongest economic arguments to make. They are ranked below in descending order.


1. Ohio Gov. John Kasich

In Office: Jan. 2011 - present

Kasich will have quite a story to tell if he enters the race for the White House. 

When the former congressman entered the governor’s mansion in 2011, his state’s unemployment rate was 9.2 percent. In the most recent confirmed figures, for March 2015, it is 5.1 percent. The improvement is not just dramatic in itself, it also outpaces the nation as a whole. Importantly, Kasich's record comes in an industrial — and electorally crucial — state in the Midwest which detractors had argued was in a near-inexorable decline.  

Kasich supporters point to a number of moves that they believed helped the economy along, including his replacement of a state board aimed at economic development with a private non-profit organization, JobsOhio. He has often noted that he erased a projected $8 billion budget shortfall without raising taxes.

Skeptics, however, assert that President Obama’s bailout of the auto-industry had as significant an effect in reviving Ohio’s fortunes as anything Kasich has done.


2. Former Texas Gov. Rick PerryRick PerryOvernight Energy: Mark Ruffalo pushes Congress on 'forever chemicals' | Lawmakers spar over actor's testimony | House Dems unveil renewable energy tax plan | Funding for conservation program passes Senate hurdle Volker: I 'cringe' when I hear 'three amigos' Live coverage: House holds third day of public impeachment hearings MORE

In Office: Dec. 2000 - Jan. 2015

Perry put his economic record in the Lone Star State front-and-center when he officially launched his campaign last week, claiming to have created 1.5 million new jobs in the last seven years of his tenure and to have “led the most successful state in America.”

When Perry took office a decade and a half ago, unemployment levels in the state were more than half a percentage point higher than the nation’s. By the time he left, joblessness in Texas was 4.4 percent, versus a nationwide 5.7 percent.

Perry backers note that Texas still has no state income tax and is light on regulation. Perry generally made sure that whatever tax hikes he did agree to were politically sellable to conservatives: a new tax on strip clubs was a notable example.

One contentious issue is the economic impact of Texas’ rapid population growth. 

Perry boosters argue that his record on jobs is even more impressive given that the state’s population grew by around 26 percent during his time in office, versus a national population growth of around 11 percent. 

Others, including left-leaning economist Paul Krugman, have suggested the influx actually helped speed economic growth by keeping labor costs low.


3. Former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush

In Office: Jan. 1999 - January 2007

Unlike Kasich and Perry, Bush was out of office before the Great Recession scythed down jobs everywhere. 

His state’s performance on jobs was better than that of the nation during his tenure. 

In the month he left office, joblessness in Florida was at 3.5 percent compared to a national rate of 4.6 percent. When he took office, eight years before, the Florida unemployment rate had also been below that of the U.S., but by a more modest amount.

Bush, who has difficulties with his party’s conservative base on some non-economic issues such as immigration, is on more solid ground when it comes to the economy. A Wall Street Journal assessment last year noted noted that he had vetoed $2 billion in government spending during his time in office. 

Still, not everything he touched turned to gold. Reuters earlier this year noted how he spearheaded one of the biggest development projects in the state’s history — an effort to create a biomedical hub in a Palm Beach County town — but the outcome fell short of expectations.


4. Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker

In Office: Jan. 2011 - present

Walker’s fight with the unions has made him a darling of conservatives but his record, at least where employment is concerned, is unexceptional. 

His state’s unemployment rate was almost a full percentage point below the national average in March, but the differential was even greater, albeit by a small amount, when he took office in January 2011.

Just as worrying for Walker, a Bloomberg analysis that tracked a wider range of indicators put Wisconsin in a lowly 35th place for economic growth over his four years in office.

The Bloomberg analysis also found tepid private-sector job growth. Employment in that sector had grown 5.6 percent since 2011, the study found, in line with the national average but worse than the adjacent states of Minnesota, Michigan and Iowa.


5. Former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee

In Office: July 1996 - Jan 2007

Huckabee is running this year, as he did in 2008, as the champion of everyday Republicans against their big-business, Wall Street counterparts.

But his own economic record — albeit in a small and historically poor state — is distinctly mixed. Last month, his claim that he had “raised average family income by 50 percent” was judged to be “mostly false” by fact-checking site Politifact, which noted that the relevant statistics had failed to account for inflation.

Arkansas’ unemployment rate stuck close to the national average for most of Huckabee’s decade in office though when he left, in January 2007, it was at 5.2 percent —  modestly worse than the corresponding national figure of 4.6. percent.


6. New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie 

In Office: Jan 2010 - present

New Jersey’s jobs trend is yet another headwind for Christie to contend with, assuming the governor goes ahead with a White House bid.

When he took office, the state and national unemployment rates were identical, at 9.8 percent. By March of this year, New Jersey’s rate was a full percentage point higher at 6.5 percent to 5.5 percent in the U.S. as a whole.

Meanwhile, the poverty rate in the Garden State has been on the rise for much of Christie’s tenure, hitting 11.4 percent in 2013 from 9.4 percent in 2009.

Christie has certainly faced challenges that were not of his making, most notably Superstorm Sandy, but even Republican insiders acknowledge that he will need to do some explaining of his economic record if he does enter the race.


7. Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal

In Office: Jan. 2008 - present

Jindal is set to announce his presidential plans on June 24 but he has made little headway in early polling.

Louisiana’s economic performance won’t help. The state’s employment picture was brighter than the nation’s when he took office in January 2008 and is now considerably worse. In March, the Louisiana unemployment rate was 6.6 percent compared to a nationwide rate of 5.5 percent.

Jindal can plausibly claim that his energy-rich state has been hit hard by the steep, recent decline in oil prices, which he can’t do much about. 

But Jindal needs something to propel him forwards, and his economic record doesn’t look like an option.