Bain ads hit home in swing states

Polling suggests President Obama’s attacks on Mitt Romney’s private-equity background at Bain Capital are hurting the presumptive GOP nominee in key swing states. 

Obama’s onslaught on Romney has not made a dent in national polls, which show the race for the White House deadlocked. 

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But there are signs the negative ads and focused discussion on Romney’s business background are hurting the Republican in much the same way the attacks on John Kerry’s Vietnam service hurt the Democratic nominee in the 2004 race, when national numbers held but key biographical metrics began to erode for Kerry.

In a swing-state survey from Purple Strategies released Monday, nearly 4 in 10 voters said new information they had learned in the past week made them consider Romney less favorably than they had before, and 42 percent of independents said Romney was “too out of touch” to be president. In Colorado, Virginia and Ohio, Romney’s favorability numbers have dropped from June.

According to Google, Internet searches for Bain Capital have increased exponentially within the last week, as questions about Romney’s tenure have swirled. The states showing the largest uptick in search traffic include Virginia, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Florida and North Carolina — indicating targeted advertisements by the Obama campaign and its allies are driving interest.


“You don’t have to be a political scientist to look at these numbers and see the ads are having an impact,” said Bill Burton, a former White House aide and the senior strategist for the super-PAC supporting the president’s reelection. “The Romney campaign is clearly panicked, or they wouldn’t have sent him out to do every network interview he’s doing.”

Polling on the issue reveals eerie parallels to the 2004 race, when Kerry was “Swift-Boated” on his military service — similarities that could hold a warning sign for Romney.

In the month after the 2004 Democratic convention — when commercials challenging Kerry’s military service first hit — polling from Republican strategist FMA showed that in battleground states, those who saw the commercials and changed their voting intentions broke for President George W. Bush by a 3-to-1 margin. 

Similarly, a USA Today survey released earlier this month showed that swing-state voters who had seen political ads and changed their mind about the election were breaking for Obama by a 76-to-16 percent margin.

And, as with Romney, Kerry saw his favorability numbers fade, even on core issues that had previously been considered strengths, like leadership and the economy. Still, in the immediate aftermath of the Swift Boat ads, the national polls showed little tangible change, with the Gallup tracking poll showing Bush and Kerry bouncing within the margin of error.

And, as it was then, the national polls today remain in a virtual deadlock, with the incumbent president holding only a marginal lead over Romney in recent surveys — actually an improvement for Romney over early in the campaign, when he was still solidifying his Republican base. That’s led the Romney campaign to argue, in a polling memo distributed to reporters Monday morning, that voters are rejecting the president’s aggressive attacks on Romney’s record at Bain.

“President Obama’s campaign will never have a more substantial advertising advantage than it has had over the past few weeks, yet there is no evidence to suggest that the ballot has moved,” wrote Romney polling director Neil Newhouse. “If throwing the kitchen sink at Gov. Romney while leveraging a 2-to-1 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.”

And there are encouraging signs for Romney in the numbers. In the same Purple Strategies swing-state poll, voters split evenly on whether Obama or Romney would be better able to improve the economy. And while Obama holds a 7-point advantage on the percentage of voters saying the new information is making them more favorable (33 percent to Romney’s 26), slightly more (40 percent) say new information is making them less favorable toward Obama, versus 38 percent who say the same of Romney.

In reality, it will be difficult for either campaign to move the dial significantly with an increasingly polarized and disenchanted electorate. But without a game-changing moment or dramatic swing of fortune, the small gradations of the political cycle will matter — and increasing evidence suggests that the persistent attacks by the Obama campaign are helping to undermine some of Romney’s core appeal.

Accordingly, the president ramped up attacks on the issue of outsourcing at a town hall in Ohio.

“Today we learned that Romney’s jobs plan would create 800,000 jobs,” Obama said on Monday. “There’s only one problem: They wouldn’t be in America.”

The Romney campaign, tacitly acknowledging the potency of the attacks, looked to turn the page to attacking Obama for “Chicago-style” government contracts that benefited campaign donors.

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


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