There’s a problem with celebrating milestones prematurely — say, putting on your resume that you finished college in June when you won’t actually get the degree until December. The hitch is you can’t party hardy when the real occasion comes round without blowing the game.

That’s the dilemma facing Ohio Gov. John Kasich after Friday’s release of revised employment numbers that showed Ohio finally had recouped all 451,100 jobs lost during the Great Recession.

That should have been the cue for some real crowing as Kasich heads toward Ohio’s March 15 Republican primary — a must-win election for Kasich’s presidential hopes.

But instead of trumpeting the achievement, Kasich issued a low-keyed statement that’s pure stump-speech boilerplate:

“By making economic development our number-one priority and working together to tear down the barriers to job creation, Ohioans have succeeded in lifting up our state,” Kasich said. “Families and communities are benefiting from the kinds of good job opportunities many said had left Ohio forever.  We are back on track and getting stronger, and I couldn’t be happier with the progress we have made together to strengthen Ohio.  We will continue to pursue jobs-friendly policies that help create opportunities for all Ohioans to succeed.”

Kasich’s lack of enthusiasm shouldn’t surprise. It’s hard to do a victory dance a second time when you’ve already declared mission accomplished.

That’s what Kasich did — a year ago.

“Guess what, I’ve got some really good news, Ohio,” Kasich said in video posted on YouTube on March 6, 2015, following the release of that year’s revised jobs numbers. “Our great state has more than earned back all the private-sector jobs we had lost in recent years. That’s right. We had lost 350,000 jobs upon my entering office and guess what, we’re now up 352,000 new private-sector jobs.”

Kasich couldn’t be called out on his claim because he came up with his own definition of a recovery: He ignores public-sector employment, which is down nearly 3.5 percent in the public schools, cities, counties and other local government agencies since he took office in January 2011, and counts only jobs lost during the four-year term of his predecessor, Democratic Gov. Ted Strickland.

This week’s report, which contains more accurate numbers “benchmarked” against job counts required of all businesses providing unemployment insurance, shows Kasich’s claim of a recovery was premature — even using his lower standards.

According to the new estimates, Ohio didn’t recover the 351,000 private-sector jobs lost during Strickland’s term until May 2015 — four months after the January report cited in Kasich’s video.

And it took six more months, until November, before the state recouped all the jobs, both public and private, lost after Ohio hit its pre-recession peak of 5.45 million in March 2006.

There’s a more important reason why Kasich would downplay the news Ohio had recovered all the recession-lost jobs. It avoids an awkward question: What took Ohio so long? The nation as a whole made up the 8.7 million jobs lost during the recession more than a year and a half earlier, in spring 2014.

On the campaign trail and during all the debates but one, Kasich sidestepped that fact by talking about Ohio’s job gains in a vacuum and avoiding comparisons to the nation or other states.

The exception came in the eighth GOP debate in New Hampshire, when Kasich boasted that Ohio was “one of the fastest growing states in the country.”

That’s not close to being true. In the five years Kasich has been governor, Ohio’s nonfarm jobs total grew only 8.0 percent, compared to the national average of 9.5 percent, according to the revised figures, released Friday by the Ohio Department of Job and Family Services. Earlier, unrevised estimates from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics ranked Ohio 24th among the 50 states. (Revised numbers for all the states won’t be available until next week.)

Kasich didn’t pay a price for his misstep. That night, nobody asked him to back up his claim. In the next three debates, in South Carolina, Texas and Michigan, Kasich kept it simple, returning to variations on his mantra — “We’re up over 400,000 jobs.”

None of debate moderators asked the Journalism 101 questions: Is that a lot of jobs? Or a little? Compared to what?

One national news organization did do some research. On Wednesday, the day before the GOP debate in Detroit, FactCheck.org, the widely read website sponsored by the Annenberg Public Policy Center of the University of Pennsylvania, posted a critique of a TV ad sponsored by the pro-Kasich super PAC New Day for America.

The 30-second spot, which is running in Michigan during the run-up to that state’s March 8 primary, cites Kasich’s boast of creating 400,000 jobs and promises “He’ll do for Michigan what he’s done for Ohio, create jobs.”

FactCheck.org faulted the ad because “Michigan actually has gained more jobs than Ohio during Kasich’s time in office, both in raw numbers and in the rate of job growth.”

Citing Bureau of Labor Statistics data, FactCheck.org reported, “Michigan added 425,600 private-sector jobs from January 2011 to December 2015. That’s nearly 25,000 more private-sector jobs than Ohio added during the same period. Michigan is also less populous than Ohio, so its private-sector job growth rate outpaced Ohio’s 13 percent to 9.3 percent.”

FactCheck.org also compared Ohio’s overall job growth rate of 7.4 percent, which include public sector workers, to those of adjacent states:

“Compared with its neighbors, Ohio’s growth rate was better than West Virginia (0.4 percent) and Pennsylvania (3.4 percent), but worse than Indiana (8.8 percent), Michigan (10 percent) and Kentucky (8.6 percent). During that time, Michigan added 389,500 total jobs — 6,000 more than Ohio.”

So why weren’t these facts brought out during Thursday’s debate? They could have been.

At the first GOP debate, Aug. 6 in Cleveland, Fox News moderator Chris Wallace punctured Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker’s job creation claims with ease:

“Governor Walker, when you ran for governor of Wisconsin back in 2010, you promised that you would create 250,000 jobs in your first term, first four years,” Wallace said. “In fact, Wisconsin added barely half that and ranked 35th in the country in job growth.

“Now you’re running for president, and you’re promising an economic plan in which everyone will earn a piece of the American dream.

“Given your record in Wisconsin, why should voters believe you?”

Walker didn’t dispute the facts Wallace cited. All he could say was that they didn’t matter.

“Well, the voters in Wisconsin elected me last year for the third time because they wanted someone who aimed high, not aimed low,” he said.

Wallace also was one of the moderators at Thursday’s debate in Detroit. Here’s what he asked Kasich during the segment of the debate on the economy:

“Governor Kasich, Democrats, as you know, will make income inequality a big issue in the general election. You support raising the minimum wage, although you say not to the $15 an hour that Democrats are talking about. Mr. Trump opposes any increase because he says it will price American workers out of the world market. Is he wrong about that? No increase in the minimum wage?”

Kasich had no trouble batting that one away.

“Well, well, wait a minute, first of all, I didn’t say I was for an increase in the federal minimum wage,” Kasich said. “I said in Ohio we increased it modestly every single year. So I’m not for a federal minimum wage increase.”

Wallace’s comeback was lame: “But you did talk about states doing it.”

Since he wasn’t asked a question, Kasich was free to spout a couple of hundred words summarizing his campaign talking points, ending with a flourish.

“So when we talk about all this, there’s one person on this stage and one person who’s been a candidate for president in either party that restored economic strength, growth, a balanced budget, paid down debt, cut taxes, the things that people in this country want. No theories. Reality.”

Wallace’s response: “Thank you, Governor.”

So why did Kasich get thanked and Walker tanked?

The likely answer is the Wisconsin governor got more scrutiny because he was considered a front runner when the first debate was held in August. Walker led in early polling last spring and summer in both New Hampshire and Iowa. At the Cleveland debate, Walker was awarded the podium next to Donald Trump at center stage.

Now, even with the field down to the final four, Kasich is hardly a front-runner. But he doesn’t have to be. As Thursday’s debate showed, the contest for the GOP nomination isn’t a race anymore. It’s a cage fight. The winner will be the last man standing.

And while Donald Trump, Ted Cruz and Marco Rubio gnaw and claw at each other, Kasich remains unbloodied.

—––

David Knox is a veteran Ohio newspaper reporter and editor, including more than 20 years at the Akron Beacon Journal — the last 10 as the newspaper’s computer-assisted reporting specialist. He has been a freelance journalist since March, when he retired as managing editor of The (Medina County) Gazette. He can be reached at dknox@paladinreports.com.

 

 

 

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