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Is the Bain attack working?

at 12:08 PM ET, 05/24/2012

President Obama’s campaign is in the midst of an extended attack on Mitt Romney’s time spent at Bain Capital, an effort to define the former Massachusetts governor as out of touch with average Americans.


(Mitt Romney during his years at Bain Capital.)
Ads have been run, conference calls have been held, press releases (and then some more press releases) have been sent — an all-out effort that speaks to how important it is for the Obama campaign to win this fight over who Mitt Romney really is.

But is it working?

There’s no question that events over the past week or so have muddied the Obama team’s efforts to demonize private equity — or at least the sort of private equity that Romney practiced at Bain.

The obvious example of the message muddle is in the comments of Newark Mayor Cory Booker on NBC’s “Meet the Press” last Sunday. “Enough is enough,” said Booker. “Stop attacking private equity. Stop attacking Jeremiah Wright.” (Booker has since considerably walked back those remarks and said Bain is fair game against Romney.)

The Obama campaign has also had to beat back criticism from the likes of former Administration car czar Steve Rattner and former Pennsylvania governor Ed Rendell on whether criticizing private equity is fair game.

CBS News even penned a piece headlined “Attacks on Romney’s business past not sticking” that argued that the tightening of polls both nationally and in key swing states was evidence that the Bain hit was backfiring.

Our read? It’s simply too early to draw those sorts of conclusions about whether the Bain attack will stick to Romney.

Look at the new NBC/Wall Street Journal poll. In it, a majority of respondents (53 percent) didn’t recognize the name “Bain Capital” or know enough about the company to offer an opinion of it. (Of those who did know enough to offer a thought, nine percent viewed Bain positively while 19 percent saw it in a negative light.)

Those numbers represent an opportunity and a challenge for the Obama team.

The opportunity is that most people don’t know anything about Bain, meaning that if Obama can define it as a company more interested in profits than people than Romney’s ties to it could hurt him.

The challenge is, yes, that most people still have no idea what Bain is, meaning that Obama and his team are going to have to spend tens of millions to try to educate them — even as Romney and his supporters do everything they can to paint a starkly different picture of Bain and what the governor did there.

Knowing whether Obama and his campaign can ultimately sell the Bain attack is tough given the poll data currently available.

In a new Washington Post-ABC News survey 56 percent of people believed that “unfairness in the economic system that favors the wealthy” was a bigger problem in the country as compared to 31 percent who said “overregulation of the free market that interferes with growth and prosperity” was a more major issue.

That finding suggests that a majority of the public is receptive to an attack on Romney as a protecter of the very people who don’t need protecting.

But, there are some within the Democratic party who remain unconvinced that the Bain attack is the silver bullet Obama world seems to regard it as — or that now is the time to launch it.

“I was never a big proponent of this attack to begin with,” said one Democratic operative granted anonymity to speak candidly about the president’s strategy. “Among the issues is one of simple timing...it’s clear the pro-Obama side thinks this is the best attack but it’s late May. What will they do for an encore in June, July, August, September [and] October?”

The next two months will be absolutely critical in answering the question of whether Obama’s campaign can make the Bain attack stick to Romney. If they can, Obama will have a leg up heading into the conventions and the fall campaign. If they can’t, it’s not clear where the next best hit on Romney will come from — and that would be a major problem for Obama and his team.

 
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