President Obama’s reelection campaign has a new ad up that portrays Mitt Romney as a heartless, job-destroying financier. It’s an attack on Mr. Romney’s record as head of Bain Capital that’s similar to some of the stuff Newt Gingrich, Rick Perry, and other ex-GOP presidential hopefuls produced during the primary campaign.
Will this line of assault work for Mr. Obama, where it didn’t for Mr. Gingrich, et al.?
Well, the context is different – Obama is trying to reach the whole electorate, as opposed to conservative Republicans in a few states. The timing is different, too. Obama’s ad has come out months prior to the general election. Romney’s primary opponents were trying to influence GOP state voters only days or weeks before they went to the polls.
But before we dive into this, let’s look at the ad itself, shall we? At first glance, it’s brutal.
The spot, labeled “Steel,” focuses on a Kansas City, Mo., specialty metals firm that Bain acquired in 1993. The company, GST Steel, eventually filed for bankruptcy in 2001.
Most of the two-minute ad is taken up with the personal tales of veteran GST steelworkers. They accuse Bain of vacuuming as much cash out of the firm as it could, then leaving the company for dead.
“It was like a vampire. They came in and sucked the life out of us," says 31-year steelworker Jack Cobb in the Obama spot.
The ad accuses Bain of closing the company pension plan and seeking the elimination of retiree life and health insurance.
“Those guys were all rich. They all had more money than they’ll ever spend. But they didn’t have the money to take care of the people who made the money for them,” says 30-year company veteran Joe Soptic in the ad.
Ouch. The main point of this, in political terms, is obvious: The Obama campaign is trying to define Romney to crucial segments of the US voting population, as early as it can.
The “Steel” spot is set to run in five swing states over the next few weeks. The underlying message is that Romney is not a successful businessman who knows how to create jobs, but someone for voters to be afraid of, a rich guy who cares little about the prospects of the little people.
“The message of Obama’s ad attacking Bain couldn’t be clearer. Romney = middle class insecurity,” tweeted liberal blogger Greg Sargent of the Washington Post on Monday.
Will voters buy it? Some may. The spot plays into powerful stereotypes of US capitalism, after all. The Gingrich and Perry attacks on Romney’s business record were targeted in only a few states, for a limited period. Much of the nation may be unaware of Bain Capital’s record, and the fact that Romney has spent much of his business career in venture capital.
But we’ll note that Obama has had trouble attracting white, lower-middle-class voters, who are precisely the sort who would presumably feel most threatened by Gordon Gekko-style corporate raiding.
Plus, the ad elides some facts: Romney left Bain shortly after it acquired GST Steel, though he continued to receive profits from Bain payouts. He wasn’t around when GST went under. Also, it was an era when cheap foreign imports were hitting US steel firms hard, in general. It’s not clear whether GST would have survived in any case.
And some conservatives say the Obama team rolled out this line of attack too early. It gives the Romney camp plenty of time to respond prior to November.
“And while it’s a natural attack on the One Percent for Team Obama, it highlights Romney’s business experience and economic acumen at the expense of their own man,” writes Ed Morrissey on the conservative Hot Air website.