FACT CHECK: Super PAC polishes Jon Huntsman’s resume

Super PAC 'Our Destiny' makes errors in TV ad backing Jon Huntsman

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Republican presidential candidate Jon Huntsman speaks on NBC's "Meet the Press"

William B. Plowman, NBC News/AP

A super PAC backing Jon Huntsman for president makes three misleading or false claims in a TV ad now running in New Hampshire:

  • The group, which calls itself Our Destiny, suggests President Obama is to blame for a volatile stock market — saying “the stock market is a wreck,” even though the Dow Jones is up more than 50 percent since Obama took office in January 2009.
  • The ad boasts that Huntsman is “consistently conservative,” citing an op-ed in the Boston Globe. But the columnist wrote that Huntsman is “more consistently conservative” than Mitt Romney, and did not compare him to the entire GOP field.
  • The ad claims Utah was No. 1 in jobs under Huntsman, but as we have written before, the state was No. 4 using the most common yardstick for measuring job growth.

The ad also says that the “economy’s worse” under Obama — which is an opinion that either side can support with reams of data.

Unemployment is at 9 percent nearly three years into Obama’s presidency. It’s even higher than it was when Obama took office. However, the recession has ended, and the nation’s gross domestic product — which declined 3.7 percent in the third quarter of 2008 and 8.9 percent in the fourth quarter — has been growing, albeit slowly, ever since the third quarter of 2009.

Stock Market Is a ‘Wreck’

Our Destiny formed in August as a super PAC, which can accept unlimited donations but must disclose its donors. It is part of a new wave of super PACs formed for the sole purpose of supporting a single presidential candidate — such as Make Us Great Again, which supports Rick Perry, and Restore Our Future, which backs Mitt Romney. The New York Times reported that Jon Huntsman Sr. is a major donor to the group, although the group has yet to file a campaign finance report, so the donors have not been publicly identified. The group’s treasurer is Thomas Muir, an executive at the Huntsman Corp.

The group’s first TV ad, titled “Someone,” began airing Nov. 15 in New Hampshire and focuses on the economy. It starts with an elderly man saying that “the president’s failed” on the economy. Another man follows by saying, “The stock market is a wreck.” The fact is that the stock market, while volatile, is far higher than it was when Obama took office.

The Dow Jones Industrial Average closed at 7,949 on Jan. 20, 2009, the day Obama took office, and closed at 12,078 on Nov. 15, the day before this ad first appeared on TV. That’s an increase of 4,129, or 52 percent.

Along the way, it has had steep drops and sharp jumps — a roller coaster that was epitomized over several days in August. The Wall Street Journal charted the single largest point gains and losses in Dow Jones history. It found that August had three of the largest point losses on Aug. 4 (512 points), Aug. 8 (634 points) and Aug. 10 (519 points), and two of the largest point gains on Aug. 9 (429 points) and Aug. 11 (423 points).

Despite the wild swings, the market has steadily increased. It was up 18.8 percent in 2009, 11 percent in 2010 and so far nearly 5 percent in 2011.

To be sure, the stock market can wreck your nerves, and past performance is no indication of future returns. But, for now, it is higher — much higher — than it was when Obama took office.

‘Consistently Conservative’ Compared to Whom?

The ad also makes a case for Huntsman’s conservative credentials. At one point, the words “consistently conservative” flash on the screen, citing the Nov. 9 edition of the Boston Globe. But those words — written by Globe political columnist Scott Leigh — were taken out of context.

Leigh, Nov. 9: "Although he’s considered the most moderate of the GOP field, Huntsman has been more consistently conservative than Romney over the course of his career."

So, Huntsman was being compared with Romney — not the entire GOP field. That field includes, among others, Rep. Michele Bachmann and former Sen. Rick Santorum — both of whom consistently earned high marks from the American Conservative Union for their votes in Congress.

The Globe columnist also wrote that Huntsman’s experience as Obama’s ambassador to China may help in the general election, but hurt him among conservatives in the primary. “Indeed, if nominated, Huntsman could have real appeal to the middle. But it is a primary hurdle,” Leigh writes. The ad, however, doesn’t mention that Huntsman has “real appeal to the middle.”

Utah Jobs and the U.S. Economy

The ad also repeats the claim that Utah — while Huntsman was governor from January 2005 to August 2009 — was No. 1 in job creation.

That’s true, as we have written before, based on household surveys taken by the Bureau of Labor Statistics. However, that’s not the best measure of job growth. The most commonly used yardstick is payroll data. By that measure, Utah was actually No. 4.

Of course, that’s still impressive. But primary voters might want to know that it is not better than job growth in Texas during that same time under Texas Gov. Rick Perry, who is also running for president.

Finally, the ad says that the “economy’s worse” under Obama. That is a subjective statement that can be backed up with lots of data, including the simple fact that unemployment remains stubbornly high at 9 percent after nearly three years of an Obama administration. In fact, it is higher now than it was when Obama took office. In January 2009, the rate stood at 7.8 percent.

However, it is also true that the recession ended in June 2009, and the nation’s economy is growing again — although at a slow rate. The nation’s gross domestic product declined 3.7 percent in the third quarter of 2008 and a staggering 8.9 percent in the fourth quarter, the single biggest quarterly decline since 1958. There were two more negative quarters in the first half of 2009, but ever since the GDP has been growing.

So, is the economy worse under Obama? That we will leave for the voters to decide.

– Eugene Kiely, with Lalita Clozel