(Wilfredo Lee/Associated Press)

“I don’t think I want to characterize Newt at this point, other than to point out our very distinct difference with regards to background. I think if America feels that we need somebody who’s lived in Washington for the last 40 years to run the country, he’s a good choice.”

— Former Massachusetts governor Mitt Romney, on “Fox and Friends,” Dec. 2, 2011

Romney, trying to draw a contrast with the surging Newt Gingrich, not once but twice said that Gingrich had spent 40 years in Washington during a 10-minute appearance on “Fox and Friends.”

Four decades? We were immediately skeptical of this figure.

The Facts

Gingrich, who rose to become speaker of the House of Representatives, was first elected to Congress in 1978. Subtracting that from 2011, you end up with 33.

We have nothing against rounding, but rounding up from 33 to 40 is a bit much.

Romney spokesman Eric Fehrenstrom justified the use of “40” because Gingrich had unsuccessfully run for Congress in 1974 and 1976. “You could argue he’s spent parts of five decades in Washington,” he said. “He’s no spring flower.”

You could argue that, but it wouldn’t be right. “Parts of five decades” inflates an already inflated figure even more. And Romney specifically said Gingrich had “lived in Washington.”

Counting unsuccessful runs for Congress as part of the years in Washington is especially strange, given that Romney waged a losing battle to win a Senate seat in 1994. Does that mean he’s been in Washington for 17 years? Of course not.

The Pinocchio Test

Let’s stipulate that Gingrich has lived in Washington for more than three decades. For some people, that might seem like a long time. We’re not sure why Romney feels the need to add 10 years to that.

(Kudos, in fact, to Rep. Michele Bachmann for getting it right on “Fox News Sunday”: “He’s been a part of Washington, D.C., for over 30 years.”)

In any case, this is probably a losing argument for Romney. After all, it might simply remind Republicans that for much of his political career in Washington, Gingrich usually was challenging the established order.

Two Pinocchios

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