BOSTON — President Obama’s re-election campaign is taking aim at Mitt Romney’s management of Bain Capital. At a campaign event in Ohio Wednesday, Vice President Joe Biden told the story of how workers at a steel plant lost their jobs when Bain took over. It’s a theme the Obama campaign, and the Obama White House, are trying to play up.
One television ad features laid-off steel workers in a company bought by Bain. It ran Wednesday in five battleground states: Colorado, Iowa, Ohio, Virginia and Pennsylvania.
“He’s running for president, and if he’s going to run the country the way he ran our business, I wouldn’t want him there,” one of the workers says in the ad. “He would be so out of touch with the average person in this country. How could you care? How could you care for the average working person if you feel that way?”
On Wednesday in Youngstown, Ohio, Biden told an audience that President Obama believes everybody should play by the same rules.
“Then there’s the Romney philosophy, the Romney economics, which says as long as the government helps the guys at the top to do well, workers in small businesses and communities, they can fend for themselves, but the country will be OK,” Biden said.
Later at the White House, Press Secretary Jay Carney added his own criticism of Romney.
“The experience of loading up companies with debt, pulling out profits and, in many cases, having companies fail and workers lose their jobs, and prior to losing their jobs, lose their pensions and other benefits, is not the kind of experience that the president thinks is the right experience that you would then want to apply to the country,” Carney said.
The attacks on Romney come from an old playbook, one used by Sen. Edward Kennedy when Romney tried to unseat him in 1994. At that time, the Kennedy campaign used the story of a company in Indiana bought by Bain.
“He’s cut our wages to put money back into his pocket,” one former worker said in an ad from the 1994 campaign.
“You’re not creating jobs. You’re taking them away from us to put money in your pocket,” said another.
Republican pollster Steve Lombardo said the Obama campaign is pouncing on Romney now because he’s just turning from the Republican primary campaign to the general election.
“Romney is just ending a fierce battle in which most of American voters don’t know who he is, so they have a chance to define Romney before he gets a chance to go out and do it himself,” Lombardo said.
Lombardo said the Obama campaign can see that Romney is rallying Republicans around him and independents are starting to move towards him. So the time to define him is now, by trying to turn what he sees as his greatest strength, the ability to create jobs, into a weakness.
It’s likely that not many people saw the television ad about Bain. It was scheduled for just one run. The Obama campaign spent just $83,000 to buy the air time.
“Frankly, the whole reason that they buy any time at all is so that reporters like you cover the ad,” said former U.S. Sen. John Sununu, of New Hampshire.
Sununu was speaking on a conference call organized by the Republican National Committee on behalf of Romney. He said the value that is provided through the investment in capital formation by companies such as Bain is essential to our economy.
“And if you don’t want to live in a market economy, well, that’s terrific, there are a few countries left — Cuba, North Korea and a few others — that discourage private capital formation. And if someone doesn’t like the idea, they can always go there,” Sununu said.
Sununu is offering exactly the defense of Romney that pollster Lombardo thinks the Romney campaign should be making.
“I think if the Romney campaign is smart, they’ll find a way to turn this to a bigger issue of the president being about government being the solution,” Lombardo said.
Lombardo said Romney should avoid getting caught up in defending his record at Bain, and keep his campaign to the president’s record.