Choosing a successful line of attack for a political campaign is a lot like being a doctor: You press until it hurts, then you know where to look. The Obama campaign is pressing Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney right where it hurts–hard. His time at Bain Capital.
Romney built his campaign on the narrative that as a businessman, he’s in the best position to lead the United States. The Obama team has turned that narrative on its head by painting Romney’s business tactics as unethical and diametrically opposed to the interests of working and middle class Americans (now they’ve even called into question Romney’s own time line of his involvement with the company).
Since May, the economic effects of Romney’s tenure at Bain Capital have become the focus of ads released by Obama’s superPAC, PrioritiesUSA, and the Obama Campaign. The ads depict workers calling Romney a vampire because of the draining policies of Bain, and accuse Romney of playing a part in the outsourcing thousands of jobs. At the outset, the Romney team treated the Bain attacks as a pesky fly and swatted at them with press releases denouncing the ads as proof of Obama’s hate for free enterprise. Two months later, Obama has Romney playing defense. The Obama team spent $20 million this month on more ads devoted to showing voters in swing states the damage Bain Capital has caused for the employees of the companies it took over.
The increased focus on Bain Capital by the Obama campaign and Romney’s paltry response mark a shift in the momentum of the race. Romney, who just last year posed in front of abandoned factories to deliver stump speeches lambasting the president for his supposedly poor economic performance, is now struggling to develop a convincing response to this narrative and has instead, decided to divert attention from Bain Capital. Which is rather interesting because as a challenger, one would expect Romney to be playing offensively to dethrone a sitting president. Obama’s playing offense, and he has Romney in a corner.
And the latest polls indicate that it’s working.
A June 26th NBC/Wall Street Journal poll showed that 33% of voters in swing states, after seeing an ad detailing Romney’s time at Bain Capital, had a negative view of Romney’s business record while only 18% said they had a positive view. A poll supported by PrioritiesUSA, released on July 17th found a similar trend. 37% of voters in swing states said they were less likely to vote for Romney after seeing the ads, while 27% said they were more likely to do so. The Bain Capital ads have caught Americans’ attention, the number of times Bain Capital has been googled and tweeted about have spiked in recent weeks. While the Obama campaign attacks Romney on the thing he most values–his business record, Romney has taken to evasive maneuvers. Namely, interacting with some different black folks.
To shift media attention from Bain Capital to something…less depressing, Romney thought it might be a good idea to deliver a speech to the NAACP last Wednesday on July 11th and pretend for a bit he had valuable words for black Americans, for which he was booed. He went with the expectation of being booed he later said in a Fox News interview which demonstrates the way he used the speech as a political tool–not to garner more black votes, but to divert attention from the Obama campaign’s relentless assault on Romney’s record as a man of business. It isn’t a coincidence that Romney decided to risk speaking to he an audience he knows to be hostile to him at a time when he’s being blasted by the president with bullets of his own making.
The Romney campaign still hasn’t devoted airtime to putting forward a counter-narrative in swing states, one that both aggressively attacks Obama and defends his tenure at Bain Capital. It appears that Romney thinks that these Bain Capital ads won’t have much of an impact (if that’s the case, he really needs a more attentive campaign team) because even Republican strategists are urging Romney to respond.
Obama has pressed until it hurts, and Romney has had the wind knocked out of him. Now, for once, he’s speechless.