But Lange, the Democratic party chairwoman in Nevada, said the local experience makes the Bain argument extremely powerful thanks to a single, familiar company that Bain invested in — the Stage department store chain, which filed for bankruptcy in 2000 and experienced significant job losses. The Obama campaign has made an issue of Stage, although it entered bankruptcy after Bain sold it and later recovered from its earlier setbacks.
According to Lange, the department store illustrates an inherent advantage of the president’s Bain strategy, which can be offered in specific regions with examples likely to resonate with local voters. The Obama campaign has taken that approach in Nevada, Ohio and Iowa, all important swing states.
Romney and other Republicans have offered up alternative examples of companies that prospered under the Bain’s leadership and have denied that Romney was involved in some of the examples Obama has cited.
Republicans also jumped at the chance to portray Obama as someone who does not get business. They defended Romney’s Bain years, distributing examples of when the company helped turn around businesses or get them off the ground. And they sharply attacked the president, saying he lacks an understanding of how the economy works.
Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) said he did not know whether the Obama campaign’s attacks against Romney will work to vilify the Republican challenger.
“This is their effort to turn Romney into Gordon Gekko, and I think they feel that that’s their best shot at making him unelectable,” McConnell said.
That approach made a few Democrats uncomfortable, including Newark Mayor Cory Booker and former Pennsylvania governor Ed Rendell, who said in widely circulated interviews that they were displeased with the tone of the attacks.
Both men later said that they, too, think Bain is fair game this year. (Rendell said he got a “thank you” from Obama’s campaign in Chicago.) And based on more than a dozen interviews with Democrats in key battlegrounds, there is little evidence that their initial discomfort reflects a widespread view.
Meanwhile, Obama’s focus on Bain has not wavered, and it is not likely to, campaign advisers said.
“This is not a distraction,” the president told reporters last week, tamping down Booker’s remarks from an earlier TV interview. “This is what the campaign is going to be about.”
For many Democrats across the country, that was what they wanted to hear.
“This is the conversation we need to have,” said Burn, the Pennsylvania party chairman. “I would be more concerned if the campaign decided the tack needed to change.”