“It makes me angry. Those guys were all rich. They all had more money than they would ever spend, yet they did not have money to take care of the very people who made the money for them.”
— Former steel worker Joe Soptic, in a new Obama campaign ad on Mitt Romney’s business record
It’s no surprise that the Obama campaign chose the story of GS Industries for its first television ad attacking Mitt Romney’s record at Bain Capital.
Unlike some of the tales of job-killing and factory-closings that were thrown at Romney during the GOP primaries, this is a relatively straightforward story: The initial investment in the steel company was made in 1993 by Bain under Romney’s leadership, and the company took on hundreds of millions of dollars in debt while paying Bain investors millions of dollars in dividends.
Romney was no longer actively managing Bain when the steel company filed for bankruptcy protection in 2001 and closed its Kansas City plant, causing more than 700 workers to lose their jobs and health insurance, as well as part of their pensions. (More on that below.)
Using just the voices of angry former workers at the company, the ad is less about Romney’s business record and more about his values.
Romney is described by the workers as “a vampire” who destroyed people’s lives while seeking to make as much money as possible. “If he going to run the country the way he ran our business, I wouldn’t want him there,” one worker says. “He would be so out of touch with the average person in this country.” Ouch.
GS Industries has also been a tempting target for Romney’s GOP rivals. In January, Texas Gov. Rick Perry mentioned it as an example of Romney being a “vulture” capitalist. The opposition research done by Sen. John McCain’s campaign in 2008 also highlighted GSI.
As usual in campaign ads, some important context is missing. Let’s fill in some of the blanks. There is also a longer, six-minute version for a Web site called romneyeconomics.com, but we will focus on the two-minute version airing in battleground states.
First of all, the investment was one of many done by Bain under Romney’s leadership, which the Wall Street Journal documented was a record mainly of success, not failure. The Romney campaign immediately countered the Obama ad with a Web ad focused on Bain’s successful investment in Steel Dynamics, featuring interviews with happy steel workers.