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Governor Jobs

The last Massachusetts governor to run for president, Michael Dukakis, built his campaign around the Massachusetts Miracle, the alleged transformation of the Commonwealth from economic basket case to high-tech jobs machine. It didn't get him to the White House, but it is the kind of story that every serious candidate needs on the campaign trail.

What will Mitt Romney's story be in Iowa? ''Massachusetts: We're number 46th in jobs!" Or ''Mitt: He kept us out of the cellar."

Selling the Massachusetts economic story is going to be hard. For instance, from February 2001, when the economy peaked, to January 2004, when it bottomed out, Massachusetts led the nation in job losses on a percentage basis, shedding about 207,000 jobs, or 6.1 percent.

Now much of that period was not on Romney's watch. And while Massachusetts' dubious number one status has been well documented, what is not nearly as appreciated is how anemic the state's recovery has been during the Romney years.

Since January 2003, when Romney took office, through the end of last year Massachusetts ranked 46th in job growth, up just 1.1 percent, according to Global Insight, an economic consulting firm. Nationally employment grew 2.8 percent. Massachusetts topped only Louisiana and Mississippi, which got crushed by Hurricane Katrina, and Michigan and Ohio, which got crushed by the decline of manufacturing.

It is not like we are picking up steam -- quite the contrary. In the last year, the gap between Massachusetts and the nation has widened, with the state's employment rising only four-tenths of 1 percent, or less than a third the national average of 1.3 percent. That put Massachusetts tied for 44th in the country.

Governors get too much blame when times are bad, and too much credit when things are good. Much is out of their control. But what are you going to run on if not the economy?

If all things in life are measured against expectations, Romney will have a particular problem explaining away the economy. He was going to be our CEO governor, the state's top salesman who could talk businessman-to-businessman and bring home those good-paying jobs. It was all bunk, of course. But he said it, and he will have to live with it.

He is also the guy who told us he was leaving because he had accomplished everything he had set out to do. What is it about these Republicans and this ''Mission Accomplished" thing?

Romney likes to point to the fact that the state's unemployment rate has fallen to 4.9 percent from 5.7 percent when he took office. What he doesn't say is that is in large part because so many people have fled the state or given up looking for a job. There are 40,000 fewer people in the workforce than when Romney took over.

The governor says the state was losing jobs fast when he was elected, but has added 37,000 jobs since January 2004. ''When Lois Lane falls off a building it takes even Superman a few floors before he can bring her back. And I am no Superman," Romney told me.

Massachusetts' problems don't lend themselves to quick fixes by a one-term governor. It is an expensive place to live and do business. Key sectors such as mutual funds and technology have lost ground to competitors elsewhere. We're cranky, and it is darn cold here.

This is not to say Romney has not had some successes. In the darkest days of the state budget crunch, he held the line on tax increases -- if not fee increases. He has made wise long-term investments in transportation and ''smart growth" and helped expand housing. Getting something substantial done on healthcare would be a significant accomplishment. If not, he can blame the Legislature, as always.

But when it comes to the economy, Governor Jobs' record makes for lousy bumper stickers. Consider:

''Romney: He beat Mississippi!"

''Mediocre Mass: Room to improve!"

Send me your best bumper sticker suggestions.

Steve Bailey is a Globe columnist. He can be reached at bailey@globe.com or at 617-929-2902.

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