President Obama’s Chicago-based campaign team has been waiting months to launch a real attack against Mitt Romney’s experience at Bain Capital. Even before Romney’s Republican presidential rivals started going after him, Obama’s campaign was preparing for the moment that arrived this week.
There is no mystery to the strategy underway: define Romney before he can fully pivot to general-election voters after a nomination battle that went on longer than expected and that kept the presumptive GOP nominee pinned to the right of the political spectrum as he fought off more conservative challengers.
MAD MONEY: Track TV ads in the presidential campaign.
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Obama advisers in Chicago and the West Wing believe that attacks on Romney’s record in both private business and state government could disqualify the former Massachusetts governor in the eyes of voters. Although the initial Obama campaign ad will run in just a few markets in a few states, an Obama-backed super PAC will amplify the message with its own advertisement on the same theme. No doubt there is much more coming from both.
In Boston, Romney advisers believe they see a bit of panic in their rival’s moves. They believe the softness of the economy, the slow pace of job creation, and the pain still felt by the unemployed and the underemployed imperil Obama’s chances for reelection — a view shared by analysts not attached to Romney’s campaign. They further believe that the political cognoscenti undervalue Romney as a candidate and therefore his chances of winning.
The engagement has brought the campaign quickly back to the core issue before the voters: the state of an economy that, although no longer in recession, is still not healthy. Same-sex marriage dominated the political world last week, but the attack-counterattack on the economy this week will begin to set the real terms of the debate for November.
When Romney’s Republican opponents went after Bain and the role of private equity in buying and selling businesses and, in the process, sometimes laying off workers and downsizing operations, there was an outcry from within the party: Don’t attack the free-enterprise system. Romney complained that his rivals, principally former House speaker Newt Gingrich, were trying to penalize success. He said he would not apologize for having been good at what he did.
The reaction from the party was enough to force Gingrich and his super PAC to back off and look for other avenues of attack against Romney. The Obama campaign will be immune to such rejoinders and won’t face the kind of internal pressure from the left to tone down its criticism. Obama’s progressive base has been eager to portray Romney as someone whose values skew to the rich at the expense of the middle class.
Obama’s campaign has had many months to test various arguments with voters in focus groups to see which resonate. The fruits of that work are now being seen. Some of the president’s advisers believe that, although Romney might be less gaffe-prone as a general-election candidate than he was in the primaries, he still can be portrayed as a politician disconnected from the problems of average Americans in ways that could cripple his candidacy.