By Justin Sink
The Romney campaign has maintained that the presumptive GOP nominee has "completely and accurately" disclosed his holdings and always paid the necessary and relevant taxes on his earnings. And on Tuesday, the Romney campaign said Obama's team was attempting to distract from the president's record.
“President Obama’s attacks on Mitt Romney have been proven false time and again," Romney spokeswoman Andrea Saul said. "As job growth slows, manufacturing activity stalls and our economy continues to sputter, President Obama knows he can’t make a legitimate argument for another term in office, so instead he is trying to tear down his opponent. This is just the latest example of President Obama and his political machine saying or doing anything to distract from his abysmal record over the last four years.”
But the article is a potential liability for the former Massachusetts governor. In addition to chronicling some of Romney's complex financial management practices that could seem unorthodox and alienating to some voters, the story questions whether Romney's financial moves were all squarely within the law.
“The assertion that he broke no laws is widely accepted. But it is worth asking if it is actually true," the article reads. "The answer, in fact, isn’t straightforward. Romney, like the superhero who whirls and backflips unscathed through a web of laser beams while everyone else gets zapped, is certainly a remarkable financial acrobat. But careful analysis of his financial and business affairs also reveals a man who, like some other Wall Street titans, seems comfortable striding into some fuzzy gray zones.”
The Obama campaign wouldn't say Tuesday whether the president planned to start hitting Romney more aggressively on the story during his upcoming bus trip through the Midwest or in future campaign commercials.
But it seems likely that the campaign will begin highlighting the story much as they did a Washington Post report, released last month, that found that Bain Capital invested in companies that specialized in outsourcing. The president and his surrogates have seized on that report, casting Romney as an "outsourcer in chief" who would aid in the movement of American jobs overseas.
"There was an article the other day in The Washington Post about how Mr. Romney's former firm — this is what gave him all this amazing success — was a "pioneer" in offshoring jobs to China and India," Obama said at a campaign event last month in Atlanta. "And when they were asked about it, some of his advisers explained, no, there's a difference between offshoring and outsourcing. I'm not kidding, that's what they said. Those workers who lost their jobs, they didn't understand the difference."
In fact, the Romney campaign has vigorously argued that companies supported by Bain did not ship American jobs overseas, going as far as to request a retraction of the article from the Post and issuing a detailed, paragraph-by-paragraph refutation of the story.
But the story seems to nevertheless be negatively affecting Romney's fortunes among voters. In a survey released last week by The Wall Street Journal and NBC News, Romney's approval has dipped 10 percentage points in swing states where the Obama campaign has released ads hammering his Bain record. In Quinnipiac polls of Florida, Ohio and Pennsylvania, Romney saw double-digit dips among independents asked who would do a better job handling the economy.
Former White House aide Bill Burton, who runs the super-PAC backing Obama's efforts, has pointed to the article as effective fodder for his group's campaign ads.
"When the American people find out what exactly Mitt Romney's business experience was, it gives them great pause," Burton told CNN on Thursday.
If the Vanity Fair article is similarly able to gain traction, it could further distract the Romney campaign's efforts. And during the Republican primaries, Newt Gingrich and Rick Perry were able to drag down the governor's poll numbers by insisting he release his tax returns — a tactic the Obama campaign seems ready to employ.
"Until he releases his tax returns from that period, Americans will never know," LaBolt said. "This raises serious questions — if he has nothing to hide, why doesn't he release his tax returns?"