COLUMBUS: The candidates for Ohio governor seem to agree that the race comes down to jobs.
But in their first debate this week, Democratic Gov. Ted Strickland and his Republican rival John Kasich disagreed on the extent of Ohio unemployment and the size of the government work force, among other job issues.
Claims from both men don't tell the whole story.
For instance, Kasich says the state has been shedding jobs since Strickland took office.
It's true that more than 388,000 jobs in Ohio have been lost since January 2007, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics' latest state figures from July. And the state's unemployment rate is 10.3 percent, compared with 5.4 percent when Strickland's term began.
Still, Ohio's employment woes come as states across the nation seek to regain footing after the worst economic downturn since the Depression.
Strickland says there has been job growth here.
That much is true, too, if the numbers are sliced in a favorable time. Employment in the state has fluctuated, but the most recent federal numbers from July show there are more employed people in Ohio compared with a year ago — 5,800 more.
While Republicans in most races this year have focused their political attacks on the Democrats' failure to reverse unemployment there's one area where job cuts are popular with voters: in government.
Strickland says he has shrunk state government. "I reduced state employment by about 5,000 employees," he said at the debate on Tuesday.
When Strickland makes the claim, Kasich suggests normal attrition should have led to a far higher number: 9,000 state jobs reduced. "The governor hired 4,000 of them back," he said at the debate.
State data backs up Strickland's figures. It's unclear where Kasich gets his.
There were 51,763 full-time state workers in August — 5,046 fewer workers than the same time in 2006, before Strickland took office, according to monthly reports from the Ohio Department of Administrative Services.
But the state doesn't keep track of retirements or its attrition rate among employees, said Ron Sylvester, spokesman for the state's administrative services agency.
The Kasich campaign has said it relied on information from people inside Ohio government for its figure. Spokesman Rob Nichols later told The Associated Press the campaign calculated its own attrition rate based on rough estimates drawn from different reports.
Sylvester said the decrease in the work force came from a combination of layoffs, retirements and people leaving state service and not being replaced.
Sylvester said the state will hire for positions such as corrections officers when they leave state employment.