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Romney: In the Navy…

The front page of the Des Moines Register is good news for Romney. With dueling headlines and photos – it’s a smiling Romney greeting a crowd above the headline, “Romney expresses optimism,” and next to that a skeptical-looking Obama and the headline, “Obama sharpens criticism.”

He puts “bayonets” in Virginia and New Hampshire radio ads, doubling down on his claim that the Navy is smaller now than since 1917. Here’s the script: ROMNEY: “Our Navy now is smaller than any time since 1917. The Navy said they needed 313 ships to carry out their mission; we’re now down to 285. …That’s unacceptable to me.” ANNOUNCER: “To Mitt Romney, that’s a problem. To President Obama, it’s a chance to deliver a punch line.” OBAMA: “[W]e also have fewer horses and bayonets…” ANNOUNCER: “The state of our Navy, the state of our entire U.S. military, is crucial for America. Our freedom depends on it. And so do many of our jobs, 136,000 in Virginia alone. Does President Obama know how much his defense cuts will hurt us? Sure, his flippant remarks insult Mitt Romney, but do they also expose how President Obama views the world and America’s place in it? As Commander-in-Chief, Mitt Romney will reverse Obama’s defense cuts. He will invest in our military, creating jobs, and defending our freedom.”

But Romney is wrong on the facts. The Washington Post’s Kessler writes that in 1916, there were 245 ships, and they included small warships, gunboats, and torpedo boats. Today’s boats are not only more powerful, there are more of them. “The current level of ships, 285 in fiscal 2011, is actually not even the lowest since 1916,” Kessler writes. “The historical list shows that the lowest ship force was reached during the Bush administration, when the number of ships fell to 278 in 2007. Given the change over time in the composition of the naval force, that probably is the most relevant comparison — and the trend line is up.”

And: “Romney’s pledge to build 15 more ships per year, including three submarines, also is less than meets the eye. The current Navy plan is to build 34 ships over the next four years — 10 in 2013 — including seven submarines as part of its goal to reach at least 300 ships by 2019.” Plus: “No other country in the world has a Navy or Air Force that is remotely comparable in size or power to the United States’. China just commissioned its first aircraft carrier, a refurbished old tub from Ukraine. The United States has 11 carriers, each of which is far, far more advanced than any foreign carrier on the high seas.”

And the fact checkers agree. Politifact gave Romney a “Pants on Fire” for the claim. FactCheck.org: “Romney Flunks Naval History.” FactCheck.org says there were 342 ships in 1917 when the U.S. entered WWI, but “there are more Navy ships now than during the last four years of George W. Bush’s presidency” and “it’s true that the Navy has fewer ships now than it did then — but not fewer than at “any time” since then.”

The conservative-leaning Washington Examiner endorses Romney.

USA Today editorial: “As head of the Winter Olympics organizing committee in 2002, Mitt Romney undoubtedly saw ice skaters executing double flips. Now Romney, in his bid for the White House, is attempting a similar move. … To some degree, this is par for the course in American politics, where candidates tack to their party's ideological edge to get the nomination, then shift toward the center in a bid for independent votes. Nor is the nation well-served by politicians who never change their minds, even in the face of new facts. But Romney has moved back and forth more abruptly, and on more issues, than most candidates, leaving voters to sort conviction from opportunism. Would President Romney govern as moderate Mitt from Massachusetts? Or the self-described ‘severely conservative’ Mitt from the Republican primaries? Odd as it might seem, the answer is: probably both. … In any event, the surest way for voters to reconcile Romney's debate season gyrations is to recognize that they're voting not just for a president but for a party as well.”

“Mitt Romney’s 1991 testimony in the divorce of Staples founder Tom Stemberg will be considered for public release on Thursday in open court and with television cameras rolling at Norfolk Probate and Family Court,” the Boston Globe writes. “The court on Wednesday rejected Stemberg’s request to close the hearing, siding with the Globe, which is seeking access to the impounded testimony of Romney, now the Republican nominee for president. … Gloria Allred, an attorney for Sullivan Stemberg, produced two, inch-thick volumes of testimony Romney delivered during the divorce proceedings two decades ago.”