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Romney's message in an improving economy

March 20, 2012: 11:16 AM ET

Romney on the campaign trail in Illinois.

Mitt Romney thinks the economy is improving.

That might come as a shock if you've heard the candidate's stump speech. But it's true.

Romney met with voters Monday in Springfield, Ill., on President Obama's home turf, and made clear that he is not a member of the second-recession doomsday crowd.

"I believe the economy is coming back by the way," Romney told the crowd. "We'll see what happens, it's had ups and downs, I think it's finally coming back."

Not one to give the president too much credit, Romney quickly qualified his statement by noting that the U.S. economy "always comes back" after recessions.

But the throwaway line underscores that Romney might be forced into making a counterfactual argument on the economy, essentially a "what if" question.

That is, instead of hammering Obama for his oversight of a stubbornly anemic and stagnant recovery, a period of rapid growth might necessitate Romney changing his rhetoric to: The recovery could have been stronger, sooner.

And that's exactly what he did Monday.

"The problem is this [recession] has been deeper than it needed to be, and a slower recovery than it should have been, by virtue of the policies of this president," Romney said. "Almost everything he has done has made it harder for this economy to recover."

Over the past few years, it was the Obama administration that had been making the counterfactual argument, saying that without TARP, the stimulus, etc., the recovery would have been slower and the unemployment rate even higher.

It now seems likely that if economic growth catches up with the robust jobs numbers of recent months, both campaigns might be making counterfactual arguments on the economy come the fall, essentially turning the debate over the economy into one big thought experiment.

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About This Author
Charles Riley
Charles Riley
Reporter, CNNMoney

Charles Riley lives and works in Hong Kong, where he covers markets, economics and other high-impact stories across Asia. He previously worked for CNNMoney in New York and CNN in Washington. He tweets @CRrileyCNN

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