President Obama's re-election campaign is attacking Mitt Romney's business experience, perhaps his strongest selling point as a candidate, in a new TV ad in five swing states.
The Romney campaign responded, in essence: Bring it on.
The two-minute ad — "Steel" — echoes questions raised early in the Republican primary about Romney's oversight of companies that Bain Capital ran when Romney was CEO of the private equity firm.
But the most direct attack at that time came from a superPAC supporting Newt Gingrich. And by law, the Gingrich campaign itself could not coordinate with the superPAC, giving him some distance from the video.
This new ad out Monday comes directly from Obama's re-election team. And it signals an aggressive effort to hit Romney at the core of the contention that his business prowess makes him better equipped to deal with a struggling economy — and, specifically, to help lower the national unemployment level — than Obama.
Bain became majority owner of GST Steel in Kansas City, Mo., in 1993. The century-old steel company declared bankruptcy in 2001.
"They made as much money off it as they could, and they closed it down," Joe Soptic, a steelworker for 30 years who ultimately lost his job, says in the ad. "They filed for bankruptcy without any concern for the families or the communities." Another former steelworker, John Wiseman, says flatly in the ad: "We view Mitt Romney as a job destroyer."
Romney spokeswoman Andrea Saul said in a statement: "We welcome the Obama campaign's attempt to pivot back to jobs and a discussion of their failed record." She also noted that GST Steel went bankrupt only after Romney had left Bain to run the Winter Olympics in Salt Lake City.
And former Obama "auto czar" Steve Ratner called the ad "unfair," telling MSNBC's Morning Joe that Bain Capital's responsibility was "to make profits for its investors, most of whom were pension funds, endowments and foundations. And it did it superbly well, acting within the rules, acting very responsibly, and was a leading firm."
The ad, airing in Pennsylvania, Ohio, Colorado, Virginia and Iowa, hits Bain for its overall management of the steel company, including targeting employee pensions and health insurance.
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Monday afternoon, the Romney campaign released its own Web ad showing a different outcome for steelworkers from a different company, one that clearly benefited from its affiliation with Bain.
The ad focuses on the success of Indiana company Steel Dynamics.
As the Los Angeles Times noted in January, Steel Dynamics has been cited before by Romney as a Bain success story. But the full story complicates things a bit for Romney and his calls for less government in the business arena.
The Los Angeles Times reported:
"What Romney doesn't mention is that Steel Dynamics also received generous tax breaks and other subsidies provided by the state of Indiana and the residents of DeKalb County, where the company's first mill was built."
"The story of Bain and Steel Dynamics illustrates how Romney, during his business career, made avid use of public-private partnerships, something that many conservatives consider to be 'corporate welfare.' It is a commitment that carried over into his term as governor of Massachusetts, when he offered similar incentives to lure businesses to his state."