A SWING AND A MISS FOR ROMNEY…. About six months ago, former Gov. Mitt Romney (R-Mass.) talked a bit about his outlook on the 2012 presidential election. In remarks to a gathering of capital financiers in Los Angeles, Romney said he expects the economy to keep growing, so he would instead focus on “values.”

President Obama, he said, “has not understood the nature of America, in some respects, that the values I’ve described of love of liberty, of freedom, of opportunity, of small government, that those values he doesn’t share.”

Yesterday, it appears Romney — known for his dramatic and shameless reversals — changed direction again, this time at a campaign event in New Hampshire. The focus on values is out, the focus on jobs is in.

As Mitt Romney travels the country lining up contributors and influential Republicans for a second presidential bid, he is presenting himself as a ready-to-lead executive, gambling that a fluency in economic matters distinguishes him from other candidates and can help overcome concerns about authenticity that dogged his first race.

Mr. Romney makes the case, in private meetings with business owners and in appearances like a dinner speech here Saturday, that the halting economic recovery — even after solid job growth in February, the unemployment rate remains at 8.9 percent — provides a compelling rationale that he is the strongest candidate to create jobs and take on President Obama.

“I like President Obama,” Mr. Romney said, “but he doesn’t have a clue how jobs are created.”

Nice timing, Mitt. These remarks come one day after we learned the economy created 222,000 private-sector jobs last month — the second-highest total in five years — and the unemployment rate finally dipped below 9%, reaching its lowest level in two years. All told, the private sector has added 1.5 million workers in the past year, while the unemployment rate has dropped from 9.8% to 8.9% in just three months — the sharpest improvement in nearly two decades.

And that’s when Romney decides to switch gears and start bashing Obama on job creation.

Indeed, the former governor’s attempts to make the economy the centerpiece of his campaign are already off to an incoherent start. Romney argued yesterday that President Obama “created a deeper recession, and delayed the recovery.” That doesn’t make any sense — almost immediately after the Recovery Act was passed, the job picture improved and the economy started growing. Did Romney not notice, or does he not know what “deeper” means?

Complicating matters, Romney was governor for four years, and during that time, his state’s record on job creation was “one of the worst in the country.” Adding insult to injury, “By the end of his four years in office, Massachusetts had squeezed out a net gain in payroll jobs of just 1 percent, compared with job growth of 5.3 percent for the nation as a whole.”

How bad is Romney’s record? During his tenure, Massachusetts ranked 47th out of 50 states in jobs growth. There’s a reason he didn’t seek re-election — Romney was wildly unpopular in his home state.

I can appreciate why Romney feels like he’s in a tough spot. He can’t talk about health care, because his policy is practically identical to the White House’s. He can’t talk about social issues, because he was a pro-choice moderate who supported gay rights and immigration reform up until a few years ago. He can’t talk about national security, because he doesn’t know anything about it.

But lying about Obama’s record, and ignoring the fact that he approved of the same stimulus he’s now bashing, isn’t going to get Romney elected.

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Follow Steve on Twitter @stevebenen. Steve Benen is a producer at MSNBC's The Rachel Maddow Show. He was the principal contributor to the Washington Monthly's Political Animal blog from August 2008 until January 2012.