Huntsman can claim a historic low unemployment rate.
In April 2007, two years into Huntman's first term as the governor of Utah, the state's unemployment rate dipped to 2.7 percent -- the lowest ever for that state, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. When he left office in his second term to become U.S. ambassador to China, Utah had 43,462 more jobs than when he started.
But Huntsman did not end strong. Utah added 130,592 jobs in his first three years in office, but lost 87,130 jobs in his last two years in office. Also, Utah's unemployment rate increased to 6.6 percent in 2009, up from 4.1 percent in 2005 when Huntsman took office.
Romney can claim he left Massachusetts with a lower unemployment rate -- meaning, unlike Huntsman and Perry, fewer people were unemployed when he left office. Romney was governor from 2003 to 2007, and Massachusetts had 49,700 more jobs when he left.
But Romney was governor during the good times, leaving office a full 18 months before the U.S. economy crashed into the Great Recession. While Massachusetts' unemployment rate declined under Romney, it was still above the national average. Today, the unemployment rate in Massachusetts is 7.4 percent, below the national average.
Chris Edwards, an economist with the libertarian-leaning Cato Institute, said it is a stretch for governors of any state to say they "created jobs."
"Texas, of course, has been economically successful because it's a Southern state, it has a bit of a smaller government than other states, it doesn't have a personal income tax, and it is a right-to-work state. All those things were in place before Perry came to power," he said.
"To his credit, he hasn't screwed up those advantages."
Tax plan jobs plan
Others in the GOP presidential field -- U.S. Rep. Michele Bachmann of Minnesota, Georgia businessman Cain, former U.S. House Speaker Newt Gingrich of Georgia, U.S. Rep. Ron Paul of Texas and former U.S. Sen. Rick Santorum of Pennsylvania -- cannot point to their executive records, leading a state.
But they agree with Huntsman, Perry and Romney on one thing: For Republicans, lower taxes and more jobs go hand in hand.
"The business sector is the engine of economic growth," Cain said during a Labor Day forum in Columbia. "If you do not start with that principle, we're never going to move this economy."
That's why every candidate's jobs plan includes some type of tax reform:
-- Bachmann wants to cut the corporate tax rate to 20 percent from 35 percent.
-- Cain wants to throw out the entire current tax structure in favor of a 9 percent income tax, a 9 percent corporate tax and a 9 percent sales tax -- his now-famous "9-9-9" plan.
-- Gingrich favors a 15 percent flat tax, meaning all taxpayers would pay the same rate.
-- Huntsman wants to lower the tax on corporation's profits to 25 percent.
Paul wants to eliminate the personal income tax altogether.
-- Perry, while not offering a specific plan yet, promises to cut taxes.
-- Romney wants to cut the corporate tax rate to 25 percent.
-- Santorum wants to eliminate corporate taxes for manufacturers who make their products in the United States.
But Holley Ulbrich, an economist with the Strom Thurmond Institute at Clemson University, says these plans are all missing the same thing: accountability.
"Both Republicans and Democrats want to create jobs," she said. "They're just going about it very differently. The Democrats are proposing to do it more directly -- by hiring teachers and rebuilding bridges. We know those create jobs.
"Republicans propose, even though it may seem more direct, to cut people's taxes. That's actually more indirect. You cut taxes and hope they will use that money in ways that create jobs.
"But if you're going to give tax breaks as an incentive, you need to have accountability that people will use those tax breaks to do what the incentives provided for."
In other words, increased corporate profits due to lower taxes, for example, could go to pay for other things than jobs, such as stock buybacks or executive bonuses.
Others say the government simply should walk away from the idea that government or its policies can create jobs.
Government already has tried the incentives route, says Bill McAfee, president of the S.C. Club for Growth, a hard-line low-tax, small-government group allied with the GOP.
"Let the private sector decide instead of the government giving out specific incentive packages," he said.
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