Joking around before the rally begins, Republican Senate candidate Cory Gardner (L) at a rally headlined by former Florida governor Jeb Bush (C) at the Douglas County Fairgrounds in Castle Rock, Colo., on Oct. 29. (Photo by Melina Mara/The Washington Post)

The massive field of possible 2016 contenders includes, as you've no doubt heard by now, a baker's dozen of governors, both current and former. While the role that a state (or national) executive can play in job creation is debated -- and often relative to the point the debater is trying to make -- the frequency with which politicians tout the number of jobs created on their watch suggests that this is a good metric by which to make an assessment.

And so we have. We took these 13 governors and tracked job creation in their states during their tenures as chief executive. The governors and their years in office are (beginning and ending in January unless noted):

  • Martin O'Malley (D-Md.), 2007 - 2015
  • Jeb Bush (R-Fla.), 1999 - 2007
  • Chris Christie (R-N.J.), 2010 - current
  • Mike Huckabee (R-Ark.), July 1996 - 2007
  • Bobby Jindal (R-La.), 2008 - current
  • John Kasich (R-Ohio), 2011 - current
  • George Pataki (R-N.Y.), 1995 - Dec. 2006
  • Mike Pence (R-Ind.), 2013 - current
  • Rick Perry (R-Texas), 2000 - 2015
  • Mitt Romney (R-Mass.), 2003 - 2007
  • Scott Walker (R-Wis.), 2011 - current

Since each state is a different size, we decided to compare each governor on how many people were employed in the state compared to the month each took office -- i.e. if 100 people were working in Arkansas when Huckabee was inaugurated and 140 working when he left, he saw 40 percent growth. The picture that results, with the horizontal axis marking months in office:


But this is not a fair comparison. Pataki and Huckabee, for example, got to be governor during the boom 1990s and left before the bust of the Great Recession. Jindal came in just in time for the economy to crater.

If you compare the net monthly change for each governor to what was happening nationally at that time, the picture is different. Here's the entire tenure of each governor comparing the state to the nation at large.


Notice that several saw job growth below the national numbers (Huckabee, Pataki and Romney included). A few were above. One, Perry, was well above.

If we revise the first graph to display the net difference from the change in the national job picture, we get a significantly different result.


The clear winners here are Jeb Bush and Rick Perry. The latter has had the good fortune of being governor of an oil state during a massive boom in the oil industry. So what's going on with Bush?

Since we're only looking at the increase in the number of employees, there's another factor that's influencing things: population. Texas and Florida grew quickly, while New York didn't, which affects the raw number of jobs. When you look at how the unemployment rate (which is independent of population) changed relative to the first month in office, the picture is a little different.


Here, Bush isn't quite as strong -- but he still does fairly well. Pataki does much better; Jindal, worse.

What does this tell us about how each would do on the economy as president? Well, depends who you ask, and when. If you ask Republican candidates as they're criticizing Obama, they'll say that the growth seen nationally in recent years is independent of Obama's work. If you ask Rick Perry how he'd do on the economy as president, on the other hand, he'd likely point to the graphs above with a suggestive nod.