President Barack Obama is casting Mitt Romney as a greedy, job-killing corporate titan with little concern for the working class in a new, multi-pronged effort that seeks to undermine the central rationale for his Republican rival’s candidacy: His business credentials.
At the centre of the push — the president’s most forceful attempt yet to tarnish Romney before the November election — is a biting television ad that aired last night that recounts through interviews with former workers the restructuring, and ultimate demise, of a Kansas City steel mill under the Republican’s private equity firm, Bain Capital.
“They made as much money off of it as they could. And they closed it down,” says Joe Soptic, a steelworker for 30 years. Jack Cobb, who also worked in the industry for three decades, adds: “It was like a vampire. They came in and sucked the life out of us.”
The ad, at the unusual length of two minutes, ran in five battleground states: Iowa, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Virginia, and Colorado. The campaign declined to reveal the cost of the ad, though it comes in the middle of a $25m, month-long ad campaign in nine states.
The ad will be coupled with a series of events Mr Obama’s campaign is holding this week in Florida, Missouri, Iowa, Nevada, and North Carolina to highlight Mr Romney’s role at Bain Capital, a company he co-founded.
It was unclear whether Mr Obama, himself, would leave the skewering to campaign surrogates as he prepares to meet with foreign leaders during the G8 and Nato summits this week.
Vice-president Joe Biden was holding two days of events in Ohio, where he was expected to discuss Mr Romney’s role as a corporate buyout specialist.
Mr Romney has accused Mr Obama of attacking free enterprise and called the criticism of his business background an attempt by Democrats to distract voters from the president’s record.
Both candidates are seeking to shift the focus back to voters’ No 1 issue, the economy, from social issues that dominated after the president announced his support for gay marriage.
The two campaigns contend that in a nation where unemployment is hovering around 8%, voters will choose between Mr Obama and Mr Romney based on economic arguments. Mr Obama is trying to convince voters to stick with him as he heralds an economic rebound, as sluggish as it is. Mr Romney counters that Mr Obama has had enough time, and only he — with his deep background in business — knows how to jumpstart the job market.
Earlier this month, Mr Obama gave a preview of the new line of attack, saying Mr Romney had “drawn the wrong lessons” from his business experience at the helm of Bain.
“He doesn’t seem to understand that maximising profits by whatever means necessary — whether through layoffs or outsourcing or tax avoidance or union-busting — might not always be good for the average American or for the American economy,” Mr Obama said.
Mr Romney, a multimillionaire, left Bain in 1999 to run the Salt Lake City Olympic Games but maintained a financial interest in the company. He has said his firm had a strong overall track record, creating jobs in prominent companies like Staples and Sports Authority, while acknowledging some companies Bain invested in were unsuccessful.
Mr Obama’s new ad, which reprises criticism levelled at Mr Romney during the Republican primaries, focuses on one of those unsuccessful companies, GST Steel.
Bain was the majority shareholder in GST Steel beginning in 1993. The company eventually filed for bankruptcy in 2001, a period in which the US steel industry was roiled by a flood of cheap steel imports. About 750 workers lost their jobs and were left without any health benefits and reduced pensions. The federal government was forced to infuse $44m into the company’s underfunded pension plan.
Bain received $12m on its $8m initial investment and at least $4.5m in consulting fees.
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