Shifting from Bain, Romney attacks 'Chicago-style politics'

Mitt Romney looked to move beyond President Obama’s attacks on his links to Bain Capital on Monday with a new line of attack accusing the White House of favoring political donors with government contracts.

In an appearance on Fox News, the presumptive GOP presidential nominee said the ties between the Obama administration and donors “stinks to high heaven.”

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“This is a tough time for the people of America. But if you’re a campaign contractor to Barack Obama, your business may stand to get millions or hundreds of millions in cash from the government,” Romney said. “I think it’s wrong, stinks to high heaven, and I think the administration has to explain how it is they would consider giving money to campaign contributors’ businesses.”

The attack on Obama for bringing “Chicago-style politics” to Washington comes after a news cycle dominated by stories about Romney’s background at the Bain private-equity firm, and the Republican’s decision to keep some of his tax records private.

Romney’s campaign also released a new Web ad Monday to push the attack, using a clip of Obama singing Al Green's "Let's Stay Together" to insinuate lingering ties between donors and the administration — a musical rebuttal, of sorts, to an Obama television commercial featuring Romney's off-key rendition of “America the Beautiful.”

And on a conference call with reporters, Romney aides said they would begin collecting examples of Obama's “Chicago-style politics” into a central place — presumably either an online or television ad campaign — to show voters the “pattern” of contracts being awarded to donors.

“There are countless examples of this over the past three and a half years, whether it’s the Department of Energy or the stimulus bill, or the Department of Health and Human services and the ObamaCare bill, and over the course of the next few days we're going to be highlighting some of these examples of how the Obama economy works,” said Romney adviser Ed Gillespie.

While Romney looked to score points by pointing to ties between Obama’s political bundlers and government contracts, his campaign maintained Monday they themselves would not disclose, as Obama has done, their own fundraising bundlers — the very campaign operatives they point to as receiving “kickbacks” and high-level political appointments from the White House.

The decision provides more ammunition to Democrats, who have accused Romney of a lack of transparency.

Asked about this apparent discrepancy during the call Monday, Gillespie punted. “The issue here is not so much the appointments and that kind of thing,” he said. “It's the contracts, the subsidies, the loan guarantees, the waivers. ... The difference here is the approach in policy and how you make the decisions.”

Romney's refusal to disclose his bundlers gives the Obama campaign another opportunity to press the Republican hopeful over disclosure — and feeds into a sustained push for Romney to turn over additional documentation about his tenure at Bain Capital and his personal finances that seemed to be gaining steam over the weekend.

On ABC News's “This Week” Sunday, conservative columnist George Will and Republican strategist Matthew Dowd both called on Romney to turn over additional tax returns, while conservative pundit Bill Kristol told Fox News it was “crazy” to try to withhold the documents.

Romney told Fox News on Monday that neither Sens. John McCain (R-Ariz.) nor John Kerry (D-Mass.) had released more than a years' worth of tax returns as candidates, and again criticized the Obama campaign for its suggestion last week he might have lied to the Securities and Exchange Commission about his time at Bain.

“Well, I think when people accuse you of a crime you have a reason to go after them pretty hard, and I’m going to continue going after him,” Romney said. “I am proud of the record I had in my business career, helping to turn around the Olympics and as governor of the state of Massachusetts. But what does it say about a president whose record is poor that all he can do in his campaign is attack me?”

The Romney campaign tried to portray confidence Monday, telling reporters that casual voters frustrated with the economy would relate to their newest line of attacks.

“The fact is there is a sense of Chicago-style politics that's brought in Washington, D.C. and people are fed up with that,” said Gillespie. “They don't want to see an economy where who you know is more important than what you know.”

A Romney campaign memo from pollster Neil Newhouse argues that the president's attacks on Bain Capital aren't working, noting the president is only maintaining a small advantage in national polls.

“If throwing the kitchen sink at Gov. Romney while leveraging a two-to-one ad-spending advantage doesn’t move numbers for the President, that’s got to tell you something about the state of the electorate: Voters are frustrated with President Obama’s failure to keep his promises from the 2008 campaign and don’t truly believe the next four years will be any different from the last three and a half,” Newhouse wrote. “The Obama campaign’s misleading advertising can’t make up for the failed policies of this administration.”

But there is evidence the attacks are gaining some traction, and frustrating the Romney campaign — especially as polls in pivotal swing states show Romney's lead on economic questions eroding. On Monday morning, the president continued to hammer Romney on the issue during an interview with a Portsmouth, Va., television station WAVY.

“Mr. Romney claims that he's Mr. Fix-It for the economy because of his business experience, and so I think voters entirely legitimately want to know well what exactly was his business experience,” said Obama.