Many commentators view the attacks on Mitt Romney’s Bain years as little more than an effort to paint him as a heartless plutocrat. But the strategy is a good deal more complex than that. The goal is twofold: First, to undermine Romney’s principal case for the presidency, i.e., that his business background makes him a “job creator” who is equipped to turn around the country’s economy. And second, to define Romney in a way that makes it easier for voters to understand his true policy goals and priorities on entitlements, taxes, and other issues.

In an interview with me just now, Geoff Garin, the pollster for the lead Obama ally Priorities USA Action, spelled this out — and insisted new polling the group has produced shows the attack is working.

Priorities will release a memo tomorrow detailing polling in the five swing states where Priorities has been running ads — Colorado, Florida, Ohio, Pennsylvania, and Virginia. Garin said the polling will show:

* a clear jump in the number of voters in those states who are less, rather than more, likely to vote for Romney on the basis of his business background, and

* a sizable jump in the number who believe Romney’s priority was making lots of money for himself and his investers, regardless of the impact it had on jobs and employees.

We should reserve judgment on the polling until we see the full memo. But Garin’s preview is also interesting for what it says about the two goals of this strategy.

“First, it goes to the heart of his primary rationale for being better on the economy,” Garin said. “Second, once people have learned that Romney was willing to fire workers and terminate health and pension benefits while taking tens of millions out of companies, they are much more ready to understand that Romney would indeed cut Social Security and Medicare to give tax breaks to rich people like himself. This provides a foundation to build the core policy critique against Romney.”

“We’ve firmly established that Romney’s tenure was not about creating jobs,” Garin added. “This sets the stage for what we’ll be doing later on.”

In my view the polling is mixed on whether the attacks are working. Today’s Post/ABC survey found that a larger percentage nationally thinks Romney did more as a corporate invester to cut jobs (40 percent) than to create them (36 percent). That dovetails with Garin’s findings above. However, 50 percent say Romney’s business background is “not a major factor” in evaluating him, suggesting Dems have lots more work to do in defining Romney’s Bain years and making them relevant.

What’s more, it remains to be seen whether voters who are prepared to view Romney’s Bain tenure negatively will see this as a reason to vote against him, or whether they’ll be prepared to accept that he possesses economic competence that’s relevant to the presidency in spite of the layoffs and profiteering. It also remains to be seen whether Dems can effectively use Romney’s Bain years to make voters understand the true nature of the contrast between what the two candidates would do in policy terms — on jobs, taxes, regulation, entitlements, and securing the country’s future. Of course, that’s where Stage Two of the Bain attacks comes in.


UPDATE: The new Priorities polling memo is now online right here.