Donald Lambro

The political battle for the Republican presidential nomination is all about who can get the U.S. economy back on track and restart the once-great American jobs machine.

It is also about who stands the best chance of beating President Barack Obama, though that qualification will be largely shaped by who has the strongest credentials to pull the Obama economy out of its long, deep recession.

As things stand now, according to most surveys, the GOP's pre-primary contest is essentially between three candidates: former governor Mitt Romney of Massachusetts, Gov. Rick Perry of Texas and Rep. Michele Bachmann of Minnesota.

The debate over who has the best economic skills is between Romney, the presumed front-runner, and Perry, the late entry in the primary race, who has zoomed near the front of the pack by virtue of his state's stellar record on job creation.

Rep. Bachmann doesn't really have a record on job creation because she has not been a governor or run a business. As a three-term House member, economic policymaking has not been her strong suit.

She valiantly fought and correctly voted against Obama's failed $800 billion spending stimulus bill. But it was reported last week that she repeatedly lobbied federal agencies to obtain some of that money for her congressional district, using what critics said were "traditional Keynesian economic rationales" to justify her requests.

In the 2009 House debate over Obama's big spending plan, which created relatively few jobs but drove the budget deficit to new highs, Bachmann attacked the plan as "fantasy economics" that would hurt new job creation.

But in an interview with Fox News' Chris Wallace, she defended her aggressive efforts to obtain some of that money for her district by saying, "After the stimulus was passed and the money was there, why should my constituents or anyone else be disadvantaged?"

Romney and Perry come to the issues of the economy and jobs from different directions. Romney has spent most of his career in the business sector as a venture capital investor with a major investment firm, Bain Capital, that sought out promising start-up businesses, providing them with capital to expand, build market share and, as they grew, put more people to work.

Staples, one of Romney's early successes, was then a one-store office supply company that eventually grew into 2,000 stores and now employs more than 90,000 people.

Donald Lambro

Donald Lambro is chief political correspondent for The Washington Times.