By Justin Sink - 05/14/12 07:36 PM EDT
The Romney campaign released a new Web video Monday heralding his leadership at Bain Capital as enabling the "American Dream" for steelworkers as the battle to define his tenure running the private-equity firm intensified.
Earlier in the day, the Obama campaign released a new commercial and website arguing that Bain exploited companies it took over to pad the pockets of top executives and investors. One steelworker, laid off after Bain closed his employer down, equated the firm to a "vampire."
"One of the hardest things to do is move up a socioeconomic status in a generation. I said because of this company, I’m able to do that with my family,” says a worker in the ad. “If that’s not the American Dream, I don’t know what is.”
The campaign reiterated that claim in a statement accompanying the release of the video.
"The investment that Mitt Romney and others made in Steel Dynamics helped to grow the company and create jobs. For the workers of Steel Dynamics, this is a perfect example of the American Dream," the campaign said.
Democrats responded quickly, noting Steel Dynamics received government subsidies and tax breaks that far exceeded Bain's investment.
The extended back-and-forth is only further evidence of the importance of the economy as the central theme of the presidential campaign, and the fight to define both candidates' economic records. With voters overwhelmingly indicating that the still-lagging economy is their primary concern, both sides are locked in a vicious fight to win the issue.
Earlier in the day, the Romney campaign argued that Bain created net jobs for the American economy through investments in growing corporations. Romney's team has also maintained that the Obama campaign's criticism is unfair because the steel company in the president's ad shut down after Romney left to manage the Salt Lake City Olympics.
Republicans have also cited Obama’s former auto czar Steven Rattner, who called the ad campaign "unfair" Monday on MSNBC's "Morning Joe."
Democrats say Romney was the one who made the decision to purchase the steel company that was shut down, and maintained they weren't questioning the private-equity industry as a whole — just Romney's tenure at Bain.
“This is about the values Romney lived by,” said deputy campaign manager Stephanie Cutter. “This is about whether Romney’s business experience qualifies him to make the right decisions as president.
“What exactly happened at Bain Capital that gives Romney the experience to run a national economy?” she said.
Romney's campaign returned fire, highlighting recent controversies over government spending.
“We welcome the Obama campaign’s attempt to pivot back to jobs and a discussion of their failed record,” said Andrea Saul, a spokeswoman for the Romney campaign. “President Obama has many questions to answer as to why his administration used the stimulus to reward wealthy campaign donors with taxpayer money for bad ideas like Solyndra, but 23 million Americans are still struggling to find jobs."