Tough new Bain ad from Obama 'super PAC': Does it go too far?

The conservative Twittersphere has erupted in anger over a new ad that targets Mitt Romney’s time at Bain Capital. In it, a former steelworker basically charges that Mr. Romney’s actions caused his wife’s death.

Charles Dharapak/AP
Republican presidential candidate, former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney campaigns at Acme Industries in Elk Grove Village, Ill., Tuesday, Aug. 7. Priorities USA Action, a pro-Obama 'super PAC,' has released a tough new ad targeting Romney’s time at Bain Capital.

Priorities USA Action, a pro-Obama "super PAC," has released a tough new ad targeting Mitt Romney’s time at Bain Capital. It’s so tough, in fact, that it may be the harshest spot yet of the 2012 presidential election cycle.

Republicans might use other words to describe it, such as “unfair” or even “vicious.”  Has Priorities USA Action gone too far?

The ad, titled “Understands,” focuses on Bain’s investment in GST Steel, a now-shuttered Kansas City firm that’s been featured in the Obama campaign’s own ads. Bain acquired the specialty metals firm in 1993. It went bankrupt in 2001, at a time when cheap foreign imports were hitting US steel firms hard overall.

The spot starts by splashing on-screen the statement, “Mitt Romney and Bain Capital made millions for themselves and then closed this steel plant.” Former GST worker Joe Soptic then tells the story of how he lost his job and his family health insurance. Subsequently his wife, who had cancer, passed away.

“I do not think Mitt Romney realizes what he’s done to anyone. Furthermore, I do not think Mitt Romney is concerned,” Mr. Soptic concludes.

Ouch. Soptic’s story is a sad one, to be sure. The ad is carefully cut, with words that lay out the sequence of events and Soptic’s opinion of the presumptive GOP nominee’s lack of empathy. But the former steelworker basically is charging that Mr. Romney’s actions caused his wife’s death. Nor does the ad mention that Romney claims to have left Bain two years prior to GST’s bankruptcy, to run the Salt Lake City Olympics. Thus it probably shouldn’t be a surprise that the super PAC spot caused the conservative Twittersphere to erupt in anger.

“This just got ugly,” wrote Ben Domenech, co-founder of the conservative RedState blog, on Monday in a tweet that linked to the spot.

“Post-partisanship, healing, and Mitt Romney killed a woman by firing her husband,” he tweeted a few minutes later.

Democrats responded that the ad charges Romney not with murder, but with obliviousness. And that, they say, is a fair charge to make against a buyout specialist who put profit before the effects of his policies on people.

In that sense, the effort by Priorities USA Action is just part of the overall Democratic move to paint an unflattering portrait of Romney prior to the GOP convention in Tampa, Fla.

“This is about more than just driving up Romney’s negatives. It’s also about establishing a picture of Romney that will make voters more receptive to the coming attacks on his policies and the priorities they embody,” wrote Greg Sargent on his liberal Plum Line blog at The Washington Post.

It may also be about something else: driving down voter turnout.

The Obama campaign’s populist Bain ads have been aimed squarely at what used to be called Reagan Democrats, wrote conservative blogger Ross Douthat in The New York Times on Tuesday. This voting sector is older, whiter, and more blue-collar. It’s socially conservative but suspicious of big business and more sympathetic to government safety-net efforts than most GOP voters.

President Obama won’t win this segment of the voting population. But he may be able to make many of them so disgusted with both candidates that they just stay home in November.

That’s Mr. Douthat’s theory, anyway.

“There’s nothing particularly unusual about this kind of strategy .... Still, it says something about how far we’ve come from ‘hope and change’ that the president’s re-election hopes may depend on making a struggling, disaffected and perpetually-disappointed bloc of American voters even more disaffected than ever,” he writes.

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