“It didn’t work then and it won’t work now,” might be too long to put on a bumper sticker, but the sentiment is shaping up to be the Obama campaign’s primary critique of the season about Mitt Romney’s economic record while overseeing the Massachusetts economy. The translation might as well be: he was a crummy governor; why would he be a different president?
It’s the message of Obama’s latest pair of campaign ads targeting Romney’s history creating jobs and running a large economy.
Romney raised taxes on everyone except millionaires “like himself,” the Obama team argues. The Obama camp also claims fees went up across many sectors of the economy, followed by a long list of new fees on things—from school buses to hospitals—that were raised while he was governor. Many of them—true to campaign form—show sympathetic pictures of children and heroic firefighters to drive home the message with empathy.
The ads are just two in a long string of attack barbs the two camps have launched at each other. Romney’s message has cast a wide net: Obama is too detached, too big a spender, and even too naive to govern the country for another four years, Romney claims. Further, Romney has said, Obama has killed jobs, sent them overseas, and hasn’t been able to speed the economic recovery.
Obama’s message is simpler, and shows where the White House and Obama campaign see Romney’s biggest weakness. Despite Romney’s stint overseeing the Salt Lake City Olympics and the time he spent leading his private equity firm, Bain Capital, it’s his tenure of governor that Team Obama has most recently and strongly targeted.
The choice of foils illuminates a broader truth about the campaign. Back in February, the economy was slowly gaining life and private-sector job growth was proceeding at a steady and promising pace. More people were getting jobs, which made it a clear contrast to slam Romney for his work at Bain, a firm that effectively slimmed down companies to make them stronger and more competitive. The most frequent way to do that was to lay off workers—an unfortunate reality for a candidate now talking about getting more Americans hired.
But after a series of off-message remarks when prominent Democrats, including Bill Clinton and Newark Mayor Cory Booker, undercut the attacks on Romney’s private equity work (Clinton called Romney’s record “sterling”), and after the economy hit a speed bump, showing slumping growth in May, Obama changed tack. If the election was going to be about the economy, Obama wanted to discuss Romney’s economic record as well.
Romney’s campaign, almost immediately, wasn’t impressed with the new spots. “These misleading ads are the latest effort by the Obama campaign to distract attention from the President's failed policies that have led to high unemployment and falling incomes," Romney spokeswoman Andrea Saul said in a statement.
But the two latest ads paint that exact portrait Obama is pining for, pointing to the downsides of Romney’s governorship. It’s a common attack for candidates who were former governors—and an easy one to craft; opponents generally find everything that went wrong in a state during specific years and pin it on the executive.
Two Obama campaign insiders say that they’re now strategizing on the “alternative” argument, in essence saying, if you think Obama is so bad, where’s the real evidence that Romney is any better? The attacks will continue, and may even become more specific. We can expect more ads comparing Romney’s 2002 campaign with the one he’s waging now, looking at the promises he kept as governor—or more tellingly, the ones he broke.