Despite criticism from some within the Democratic Party, the Obama campaign said it was “just beginning” to roll out attacks against Mitt Romney over his career as an executive at Bain Capital.
“This is a discussion that we’re just beginning, that extends to his public sector tenure as well in terms of applying that economic philosophy,” said Obama campaign spokesman Ben LaBolt, in a conference call with reporters on Monday.
“If you look at the regional coverage, particularly in the industrial Midwest, this is a very different conversation in battleground states than it is among elites in the northeast corridor,” he continued. “And I think the notion that Romney and his partners always made a profit even when the companies went under and even when the workers lost their jobs and their pensions and their healthcare has raised serious concerns in many states across the country.”
“Mitt Romney has made his tenure as a corporate buyout specialist the central premise of his candidacy and claimed it is what credentials him to be a job creator as president,” LaBolt told The Hill late last week. “But Governor Romney’s goal wasn’t job creation, as he claims. It was profit maximization for himself and his partners — he profited off of bankrupting companies and outsourcing jobs.”
Obama is working hard to make the case that Romney’s background in private equity does not qualify him to be president. In a series of ads, Obama and his campaign have sought to turn that background into a weakness by highlighting companies that failed after they were purchased by Bain Capital, the private-equity group founded by Romney.
It’s similar to the line of attack used by Romney’s former presidential rivals in the GOP primary, Rick Perry and Newt Gingrich, who accused the firm of “vulture capitalism” — the practice of taking over a company not to turn it around but to break it down for a quick profit.
However, some in the Democratic Party, most notably Newark, N.J., Mayor Cory Booker (D), have decried the strategy as an attack on free-market capitalism.
The Obama campaign has since tried to be more cautious in its approach, saying that it’s not attacking the practices of private-equity firms but rather calling into question Romney’s reasoning that because he has private-sector experience, he is better equipped to run the economy.
In the same conference call on Monday, Obama campaign adviser David Axelrod said it’s a discussion that the Romney campaign instigated.
“It’s a discussion that he put on the table and really it’s the only credential he’s offered,” Axelrod said. “He didn’t mention the fact he’d been governor of Massachusetts in his campaign rollout speech in New Hampshire. The only credential he offered was his experience at Bain. Does the philosophy he brought there translate into job creation when leading a government? It didn’t in Massachusetts and it won’t when leading the country.”
It’s a thorny issue for both sides. Last month, Eric Fehrnstrom, senior campaign adviser to the Romney presidential campaign, credited the former Massachusetts governor with creating “well in excess of 100,000” jobs as an executive at Bain Capital.
Romney made a similar claim early in the Republican primary season, but seemed to walk the number down after it was challenged by his GOP presidential rivals. At later points during the cycle, Romney has said he created “tens of thousands” or “thousands” of jobs,” and at other times has argued that it’s his experience in the private sector, rather than his prowess as a jobs creator at Bain, that makes him best equipped to manage the economy.
Axelrod downplayed the importance the Bain attacks have had early in the election cycle, saying that only about $100,000 out of the $25 million the campaign spent on advertising in May targeted the private-equity firm.
This story was updated at 4:42 p.m. to correct a quote from Obama press secretary Ben LaBolt incorrectly attributed to Obama for America policy director James Kvaal.