Anti-Romney ads on Bain Capital: Whose is toughest?

Negative ads are rolling out about Mitt Romney's tenure at Bain Capital, trying to paint him as the sort of privileged money guy who created the financial meltdown.

Brian Snyder/Reuters
Republican presidential candidate and former Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney speaks before the Nashua Chamber of Commerce in Nashua, New Hampshire on Monday, one day before New Hampshire's first-in-the-nation primary election.

Mitt Romney’s opponents are lining up to attack him over his time as head of Bain Capital, in case you haven’t heard. They’re going to accuse him of bankrupting companies, throwing people out of work, and generally behaving like Gordon Gekko, the amoral Michael Douglas character from the flick “Wall Street.”

It’s the “Bain bomb,” according to Politico – the long-awaited moment when Mr. Romney’s foes will try to paint him as the sort of privileged money guy who created the financial meltdown, as opposed to a skilled private-sector job creator.

“If he ends up looking more like an opportunist who profited for the few, instead of a man who created jobs for the many, it’s hard to imagine his poll numbers won’t drop,” write Politico’s Reid Epstein and Jim VandeHei.

Whose ads here are toughest? We’ll start with the Democratic National Committee, which is already eyeing the ex-Massachusetts governor as President Obama’s most likely opponent. Theirs are, well, sort of mild salsa.

The DNC’s “Mitt’s Bogus Math,” uploaded Sunday on YouTube, focuses exclusively on a number – specifically, the 100,000-plus jobs Romney has said Bain created. It’s a fairly standard ad, containing quotes from experts and analysts holding that this figure does not include jobs lost in corporate takeovers but rather counts jobs created long after Bain was no longer associated with such firms as Sports Authority and Staples.

As a bonus, the ad features two clips of ABC News hound George Stephanopoulos interrogating Romney (or, rather, it features the same clip, twice). How many people have forgotten today that Mr. Stephanopoulos used to be a top aide to President Clinton? Just asking.

However, the DNC does have the resources to react quickly – a plus for them. So they’ve already posted video of Romney’s infelicitous quote from Monday, in which he said at a New Hampshire appearance, “I like being able to fire people who provide services to me.”

The context here was Romney talking about health insurance, and how consumers should be able to fire their insurance firm and seek a better alternative.

But the DNC is not Romney’s biggest threat at the moment. No, that would be Newt Gingrich, who is mad and is not going to take it anymore.

A pro-Romney "super political-action committee" hammered the ex-speaker with negative ads in Iowa, and now a pro-Gingrich super PAC is going to return the favor. This group, named Winning Our Future, plans to spend more than $3 million running harsh ads that link Romney to Bain’s activities. It’s already put up a website called King of Bain, which gives you a taste of the manner in which it is addressing this question.

And boy, the ads promise to be the toughest thing that the 2012 campaign has seen yet (with the possible exception of some of Ron Paul’s surprisingly aggressive attacks on pretty much everyone). Winning Our Future says it’s going to put up a 45-minute video about the whole Bain thing, and if the two-minute teaser it's already released is any guide, they’re going to be wearing helmets and flak jackets in Romney HQ after the video comes out.

The ad, titled “When Mitt Romney came to town,” is already up on the King of Bain site. It starts with generic morning-in-America gauziness. Then an American flag suddenly turns black and white, the scary music comes up, and you know the villain of the piece is about to appear.

“In the wrong hands, the American dream can turn into nightmares,” says the ad’s narrator.

Staged shots of fat cats smoking cigars and briefcases full of money follow. And then the ad swerves to clips of interviews with middle-aged to elderly folks, many of them women, who apparently lost jobs at Bain-owned firms.

“That hurt so bad – to leave my home because of one man that’s got 15 homes,” says one teary woman, referring to the multi-housed Romney.

Ouch – that’s tough stuff. Another woman says, “I feel that is the man that destroyed us.” And so forth.

What was Romney’s tenure at Bain really like? A full examination of that would probably require book-length treatment. But The Wall Street Journal took a first cut at it on Monday, and it concluded that there’s something in his Bain record to support the assertions of both his supporters and critics.

On the one hand, the rate at which firms that Bain invested in ran into trouble appears to be higher than the average for similar investment firms of the time, according to the WSJ. At least 22 percent of Bain’s firms closed their doors or filed for bankruptcy within eight years of Bain’s first investment.

On the other hand, Bain was putting money into risky small firms, and it did produce big gains. Overall, the firm produced 50 percent to 80 percent annual profits for its investors, with much of that cash coming from a few big winners.

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