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Romney v. Perry in a YouTube Slugfest

Dueling Web ads from GOP candidates come with unintentionally ironic titles: "The Facts" and "Misleading."


Mitt Romney and Rick Perry are hammering each other with dueling — and distorted — YouTube ads.

  • Romney’s ad says “unemployment has doubled on Perry’s watch” as Texas governor. That’s true. But it’s also true that Texas has bucked the national trend and now has a lower jobless rate than the national average.
  • Perry has two ads that edit old video to make Romney appear to say “I would” apply the Massachusetts health care law to the nation, when in fact he said “I don’t believe in applying what works in one state to all states.”

Ironically, the competing ads are called “The Facts” and “Misleading.”


Things have gotten personal between the two Republican presidential rivals, as was clear in the last GOP debate. And with Perry and Romney amassing the largest campaign war chests, they both have plenty of firepower to attack each other. So their distorted Web ads may be a harbinger of a future air war, with similar ads appearing soon on television in states with early primaries and caucuses.

Some ‘Facts,’ but No Context

A 60-second web video, called “The Facts,” is the first offering on a new anti-Perry website, www.CareerPolitician.com, created by the Romney campaign, and it aims right at one of Perry’s biggest perceived strengths: Texas’ record of job growth.

The ad begins with an exchange between George Stephanopoulos and Perry during an interview on ABC’s “Good Morning America” on Oct. 14.

Stephanopoulos: Your opponents point out that unemployment has doubled during your tenure as governor. And that about 65 percent of the Texas jobs gains since 2007 are actually government jobs. Is that the model for the country?

Perry: Well, I disagree with those numbers.

Text in the ad then states: “Disagree? It’s a fact.”

An image of a tumbleweed blowing down a desolate highway then provides the backdrop for the text of several jobs statistics:

Text in Romney campaign ad, “The Facts”: Over 1 Million Texans out of work

Highest unemployment rate in Texas in over 20 years

Unemployment has doubled on Perry’s watch

Nearly half of new jobs in Texas over the last 4 years went to illegal immigrants

There are a lot of numbers being thrown around here, so let’s take them in order starting with the ones cited by Stephanopoulos: “that unemployment has doubled during your tenure as governor. And that about 65 percent of the Texas jobs gains since 2007 are actually government jobs.”

Let’s begin by giving Perry the benefit of his full response to Stephanopoulos, because in it, he makes clear that his disagreement is with the context of the first statistic, and the substance of the second.

Perry: Well, I disagree with those numbers. For one thing, we’ve had a state that’s had huge growth. And a lot of people have moved to the state of Texas from other states looking for those jobs. Unemployment’s gone up all across this country. Texas wasn’t immune to it. We just happen to be creating jobs while other states were losing jobs. And the bulk of those jobs, 95 percent of them, were above minimum wage. And the substantial margin of them, substantially more than the information you’ve got, are in the private sector. That’s how Americans want to see job creation.

Perry isn’t contesting the accuracy of the claim that the unemployment rate doubled during his tenure as governor. It did. According to data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the unemployment rate was 4.2 percent in December 2000 when Perry took office; and it was at 8.5 percent in August.

Rather, Perry sought to qualify the statistic by noting that Texas’ rising unemployment rate tracked a national trend. The national unemployment rate was 3.9 percent when Perry took office; and it was 9.1 percent in August. In other words, Texas’ unemployment rate was higher than the national average when he took office, and it is lower than the national average now.

Perry is also right about Texas’ population explosion. According to the U.S. Census, Texas’ population grew by 20.6 percent between 2000 and 2010, more than twice the 9.7 percent national average. As for Perry’s claim about the low percentage of minimum wage jobs, we have noted in the past that 9.5 percent of workers in Texas who are paid hourly rates (a subsection of all workers) earn at or below minimum wage. That gives the state the highest percentage in the nation, tied with Mississippi, according to BLS data.

Perry did, however, challenge the statistic posed by Stephanopoulos “that about 65 percent of the Texas jobs gains since 2007 are actually government jobs.” And Perry is right. It is true that the rate of government job growth has outpaced private sector job growth in Texas. Since Perry took office, private sector employment has gone up by 10 percent and government sector employment has climbed 18.3 percent, as the San Antonio Express-News noted. But Perry was correct that Stephanopoulos was citing bloated figures. According to BLS statistics, the number of government jobs in Texas increased by 109,300 between January 2007 and August of this year.  Over the same period, the number of jobs overall grew by 364,400. So government jobs made up about 30 percent of the job growth, not 65 percent.

Yes, but …

Some of the other statistics in the ad are accurate but lack important context. For example, it’s true, as the ad says, that, “over 1 million Texans [are] out of work.” According to BLS data, there were 1,036,439 unemployed workers in Texas in August. But again, the unemployment rate in Texas, at 8.5 percent, was lower than the national average of 9.1 percent.

It’s also true that Texas’ 8.5 percent unemployment rate in August was the “highest unemployment rate in Texas in over 20 years,” as the ad says. According to BLS data, the last time Texas unemployment was that high was in June of 1987. But that’s not much different than the national trend. Nationally, unemployment reached a recession high point of 10.1 percent in October of 2009, the highest rate since June of 1983.

Perry has instead offered a glass-half-full version of the state jobs picture, claiming that Texas job creation has far outpaced the rest of the country. While Texas has gained over a million jobs between December 2000 and July 2011, the country as a whole lost close to 1.3 million jobs. Perry has been in office during an 11.1 percent increase in jobs. Over that period, only four states grew jobs at a faster rate: North Dakota, Wisconsin, Alaska and Utah.

As we noted in a previous story, there are some caveats to Perry’s version of the Texas jobs story.  The increase in jobs hasn’t kept pace with the rise in the state’s population — so the number of jobless Texans also has risen, along with the state’s unemployment rate. And Texas enjoys some unique factors that helped it fare better than most states during the recession. Its economy has benefited from high fuel prices, and Texas didn’t experience the big housing bust.

By comparison, over the entirety of Romney’s term in office, the ranks of Massachusetts’ employed increased by 1.4 percent. However, that was far slower growth than the national average, 5.3 percent. In fact, as Perry has repeatedly pointed out (including in a web ad we’ll discuss later), Massachusetts ranked 47th in job growth over the length of Romney’s term. Under Romney, the unemployment rate dropped from 5.6 percent in January 2003 to 4.6 in January 2007. But that’s not such a dramatic swing when viewed against the national backdrop. Massachusetts’ unemployment rate was slightly better than the national unemployment rate of 5.8 percent when Romney took office and was roughly the same as the national rate when he left office.

Illegal Immigrants Stealing Jobs?

The last statistical jab in the Romney ad is that “nearly half of new jobs in Texas over the last four years went to illegal immigrants.”

As we noted when Romney cited the same statistic at the most recent Republican debate in Las Vegas, it is based on a disputed study by an anti-immigration group. It comes from a September report from the Center for Immigration Studies, a think tank that advocates for lower immigration. But the group’s methodology has been questioned by some because it compared gross inflows of employed illegal immigrants to net job creation in the state. A “net to net” comparison suggests illegal immigrants accounted for about 20 percent of the job gains in Texas since 2007.

‘Misleading’ Ad … Misleads

The Perry campaign, meanwhile, has created two new web ads, “Misleading” and “Romney’s Remedy,” both of which include tightly edited snippets of Romney statements that make it appear he favors a national health care mandate, such as the one he instituted for Massachusetts when he was governor.

The key clip from both videos comes from a Romney interview with the late Tim Russert of NBC’s “Meet the Press” on Dec. 16, 2007, when Romney was making his first presidential bid. Here’s the part you hear in the video:

Russert, Dec. 16, 2007: Wouldn’t you apply it to the rest of the country.

Romney: I would.

And here’s the full exchange, in which Romney makes clear his position is actually just the opposite of what the ad suggests. Romney advocated a state, rather than national, solution to health care reform. (We put the snippets used in the “Romney’s Remedy” ad in bold.)

Russert: [As governor of Massachusetts] you talked about if you have automobile insurance, you need health insurance. A human being is more important than an automobile. And if you don’t have [money to] buy health insurance — if you’re too poor, we’ll help you. But if you don’t buy it, there’s going to be a penalty. You’re going to get fined, in effect, a couple hundred bucks.

Mitt Romney runs for president. Healthcare plan. No mandate. No conversation about health insurance, auto insurance. No fine if you don’t sign up. Why, if it’s good for Massachusetts and it’s working in Massachusetts, wouldn’t you apply it to the rest of the country.

Romney: I would.

Russert: A mandate?

Romney: No. Let me tell you what I would do, just exactly as I described. I like what we did in Massachusetts. I think it’s a great plan. But I’m a federalist. I don’t believe in applying what works in one state to all states if different states have different circumstances.

So let’s look, for instance. The plan we put together in Massachusetts I think is working in Massachusetts. I sure hope so. We’re going to get more information about how well it’s working, of course. But Massachusetts has roughly 7 percent of our population uninsured. Texas has 25 percent. Given the kind of differences between states, I’m not somebody who’s going to say what I did in Massachusetts I’m going to now tell every state they have to do it the same way. Now, I happen to like what we did. I think it’s a good model for other states. Maybe not every state, but most. And so what I’d do at the federal level is give to every state the same kind of flexibility we got from the federal government, as well as some carrots and sticks to actually get all their citizens insured. And I think a lot of states will choose what we did. I wouldn’t tell them they have to do our plan. Governor Schwarzenegger, for instance, in California, has his own healthcare plan. He’s going about it in a different way. I like mine better than his; he likes his better than mine.

Russert: So if a state chose a mandate, it wouldn’t bother you?

Romney: I think it’s a terrific idea. I think, I think you’re going to find, when it’s all said and done, after all these states that are laboratories of democracy get their chance to try their own plans, that those who follow the path that we pursued will find it’s the best path, and we’ll end up with a nation that’s taken a mandate approach.

The “Misleading” ad also features a clip from a Romney interview with CBS’s Harry Smith on June 24, 2009. At the time, the so-called “public option” — a federal insurance plan to compete with private insurance companies — was still on the table. (We’ve included a fuller version of Romney’s response than is included in the ad.)

Smith: The question then becomes, how do you insure the 45 or 50 million Americans who are not on the books?

Romney: “Well, that’s what we did in Massachusetts, and that is, we put together an exchange. And the president’s copying that idea. I’m glad to hear that. We let people buy their own private insurance. Most people can afford to buy that insurance, once you have an exchange that allows them to do that on a cost-effective basis. And then for those that are low income, you help them buy their own private insurance. But you don’t set up a government insurance plan, because it’s going to end up costing billions of dollars in subsidy. It’s the wrong way to go.”

So Romney praised a part of the Obama plan to create a health insurance exchange, a place where individuals who don’t get insurance through an employer could shop for insurance and get the benefit of group rates. But that’s a far cry from the conclusion reached in the ad text: “‘Glad’ he crafted Obamacare.” In fact, Romney has repeatedly stated that as president he would do whatever he can to get rid of Obama’s health care law.

There are some other bits of misleading information in the two Perry ads, some of which we have written about when they were raised in other venues:

  • The “Romney Remedy” ad correctly points out that Romney edited his paperback version of “No Apology” to remove a sentence that said, “We can accomplish the same thing for everyone in the country.” But as we noted when Perry raised the issue in a Sept. 22 debate in Orlando, he goes too far by suggesting that Romney would like to impose his state’s health care plan on the federal level. In the context of the book the phrase “the same thing” was a reference to the goals addressed by the state law: “portable, affordable health insurance.” And the evidence shows that Romney saw his plan as a potential model for other states to replicate, but that he didn’t think his state’s health care law was necessarily right for all states or the nation.
  • The “Romney’s Remedy” ad repeats a questionable claim that the Massachusetts health care law “killed 18,000 jobs.” As we wrote when Perry cited the figure in a September campaign speech, that number was churned out by an economic model used by a conservative think tank, the Beacon Hill Institute at Suffolk University. Other experts disagree with the basic premise of the study – that the law led to higher costs, particularly for employer-based premiums.
  • The “Misleading” ad includes a clip of Romney saying at the Las Vegas debate, “I don’t think I’ve ever hired an illegal in my life,” and “we hired a lawn company to mow our lawn and they had illegal immigrants who were working there.” Text in the ad then asks, “Why did he wait one full year to fire them?” We wrote about this issue when it was raised by Perry at the debate, and concluded there is no evidence that Romney knowingly hired illegal immigrants. But he hired a lawn service that did, as was discovered in a 2006 Boston Globe story . Romney said he warned the company it could not have any illegal immigrants working on his property  — telling them, “I’m running for office, for Pete’s sake, I can’t have illegals.” But he kept the company on for another year, until a follow-up story by the Globe found the company was still employing illegal workers. Romney then fired the company.

Ever notice how some builders will name a new development something like “Oak Woods” after the woods have been cut down to make way for the new houses? As these ads — “The Facts” and “Misleading” — show, politicians do it too.

— by Robert Farley


YouTube.com. Mitt Romney campaign Web ad, “The Facts.” 17 Oct 2011.

YouTube.com. Rick Perry campaign Web ad, “Romney – Misleading.” 19 Oct 2011.

YouTube.com. Rick Perry campaign Web ad, “Romney’s Remedy.” 9 Oct 2011.

Smith, Ben and Martin, Jonathan. “Perry vs. Romney: Now it’s personal.” Politico. 19 Oct 2011.

Eggen, Dan. “Perry and Romney dominate the GOP field in fundraising.” Washington Post. 16 Oct. 2011.

ABC’s “Good Morning America.” George Stephanopoulos interview with Rick Perry. 14 Oct 2011.

Mildenberg, David. “Population growth in Texas eclipses national rate.” Washington Post. 18 Feb 2011.

Robertson, Lori. “Texas-Size Recovery.” FactCheck.org. 31 Aug 2011.

Fikac, Peggy and Danner, Patrick. “Government fuels Texas jobs.” San Antonio Express-News. 26 Aug 2011.

Bureau of Labor Statistics, Local Area Unemployment Statistics: Texas, 2001 – 2011.

Farley, Robert. “Spinning Job Growth: By the Numbers.” FactCheck.org. 08 Sep 2011.

Camarota, Steven A. and Webster, Ashley Monique. “Who Benefited from Job Growth In Texas?” Center for Immigration Studies. Sep 2011.

NBC’s “Meet the Press.” Transcript on interview with Mitt Romney. 16 Dec 2007.

YouTube. CBS interview with Mitt Romney. (4:45 mark). 24 Jun 2009.

Saltzman, Jonathan, Cramer, Maria and Paige, Connie. “Illegal immigrants toiled for governor.” Boston Globe. 01 Dec 2006.

Cramer, Maria, Sacchetti, Maria and Paige, Connie. “Lawn work at Romney’s home still done by illegal immigrants.” Boston Globe. 04 Dec 2007.

Ironically, the competing ads are called “The Facts” and “Misleading.”