Mitt Romney‘s business experience has come under increased scrutiny over the past month of the presidential race, as President Barack Obama‘s re-election campaign and its SuperPAC allies work furiously to turn the Republican candidate’s record at Bain Capital — and the fortune he made there — into a political liability. Republicans have dismissed the Bain attacks as a distraction aimed at diverting attention from the President’s economic record. In a statement to Business Insider earlier this week, Romney campaign spokesperson Andrea Saul dubbed the attacks an “unfounded character assault,” calling them “unseemly and “disgusting.”
On the surface, that defence makes sense. But the strategy behind the attacks is actually a lot more complicated.
In conversations with Business Insider, Democratic strategists explained that while the attacks are aimed at making Romney look like an out-of-touch rich guy, they also serve a broader goal of providing a vehicle to talk about the real theme of the Obama campaign: Class.
Ads highlighting Romney’s role at Bain Capital and his opaque personal fortune provide a lens that frames the Republican candidate’s policies for voters, including his plans to cut taxes for the wealthy and cut entitlement spending, Rodell Mollineau, president of the pro-Obama SuperPAC American Bridge, explained.
“As the American people begin to really understand his political and business history, it becomes easier for Americans to see what it is that he is going to do,” Mollineau said. “Most Americans would never think about having a Swiss bank account, and then you layer on that some of the gaffes he’s made like the $10,000 bet and ‘corporations are people.’ He’s presenting to voters that he doesn’t really get it.”
“It sets up a very good argument for how he would handle economic policies as president.”
Bill Burton, chief strategist for the pro-Obama SuperPAC Priorities USA Action, laid out the argument in an email to Business Insider:
“Mitt Romney has made his experience in business his primary qualification to be President . He has promised to apply the same approach to the Presidency as he did as a corporate buyout specialist by pursuing policies that cut promised Medicare benefits and slash educational and job opportunities for the middle class, while protecting the safety net for the wealthiest Americans like himself.”
New polling evidence suggests that Burton’s argument — and the damning Bain attack ads his group has been running in key swing states — are actually resonating with voters.
A polling analysis released today by Priorities USA Action shows that Obama leads Romney by 8 points (49% to 41%) in markets where Priorities ran ads attacking Romney’s record at Bain Capital, compared to a 3-point lead in markets that did not see the Bain ads.
The polling, which was conducted in the battleground states of Ohio, Florida, Virginia, Colorado, and Pennsylvania, also shows that Romney has a 9-point negative favorability rating in markets that ran the ads and a full 40% of voters in those markets said that Romney’s role as CEO of Bain Capital makes them less likely to vote for him. By comparison, Romney has a 5-point negative favorability rating in markets that didn’t see the ads, and 34% of voters in those markets said his record at Bain made them less likely to vote for him.
Overall, Obama leads Romney by an average of 48% to 42% in the five states. Romney’s average favorability rating across the five states is 36%, while 43% of voters say they view him unfavorably.
Here’s the breakdown:
Photo: Priorities USA Action
According to Mollineau, the attacks on Romney’s business record are working in part because voters still know very little about Romney, apart from the fact that he is a rich, successful businessman. This absence of details about the candidate and about his policy plans have made it easier for Democrats to define their opponent, Mollineau said.
“When all you have in this vacuum is the past, and the past is not always flattering, than that is what you are giving voters,” he said. “Mitt Romney isn’t going out of his way to explain what his policies would be, so he’s leaving voters with the worst possible ideas.”
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