The Democrats’ Tampa Counterattack

Obama’s shock troops flouted convention by storming the GOP convention. Lloyd Grove reports on the on-site message machine.

Robyn Beck, AFP / Getty Images

That Mitt Romney character sure sounds like a bad man—at least according to the Democratic spin operation striving to be heard in Tampa this week.

“We’re excited to start our messaging on Mitt Romney’s business career, and what he did and how it affected real people in middle-class America,” former White House press secretary Robert Gibbs declared, launching President Obama’s counterattack Tuesday in a storefront office a few blocks from the Republican National Convention.

It is, by now, standard procedure for the opposite party to try throwing a wet blanket on its adversary’s convention, but during this election cycle the attempt is more vigorous than ever. Vice President Biden, no less, was planning to crash the celebration on Monday until Tropical Storm Isaac intruded, and Obama, departing from tradition, was holding campaign events (and competing for free television) at the same time as Romney’s coming-out party.

At a media breakfast, that delicate hothouse flower Karl Rove, the GOP’s answer to James Carville, suggested that Obama’s campaigning this week was beneath the dignity of the presidency and unseemly.

“I don’t think we’ll be taking advice from Karl Rove on what is or isn’t unseemly in politics,” sniffed Obama campaign spokesman Ben LaBolt.

As reporters munched on croissants, doughnuts, and other goodies supplied by the Democratic National Committee and Obama’s reelection campaign, Maryland Gov. Martin O’Malley, Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa, and other Obama backers eviscerated the presumptive GOP nominee and his running mate, Rep. Paul Ryan. Apparently, not since Henry F. Potter tried to ruin George Bailey in It’s A Wonderful Life have such a villainous pair of plutocrats blighted the honest, hard-working men and women of the greatest country on earth.

“Romney economics would spell disaster for America’s middle class,” O’Malley warned. “In this economy there are shipbuilders and ship wreckers,” O’Malley added, leaving no doubt to which group Romney belongs. O’Malley couldn’t resist tweaking Tuesday night’s keynote speaker, New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, as “a governor who has the fourth-worst unemployment rate of any state in the nation,” who was preparing to “deliver his angry, Don Rickles keynote.”

Villaraigosa called Romney “a job destroyer, not a job creator” who “devastated communities and lives.” Predicting that Obama will get 70 percent of the Hispanic vote, the mayor also took a shot at the Republican Party’s plans to showcase Latinos as their confab, scoffing: “You can’t just trot out a brown face or a Spanish surname and expect the people to vote for your party or your candidate.” That remark drew blood, prompting the Romney camp to send out a blast email Tuesday complaining that “President Obama’s campaign is going off the rails with reprehensible attacks and reckless charges against Governor Romney.”

Piling on were Somerville, Mass., Mayor Joseph A. Curtatone, who claimed Romney, as governor, “duped” the citizens of the Bay State; retired CarMax chief executive Austin Ligon, who accused Romney of embracing “fantasy economics” and aping “the same austerity formula that is failing so badly in many European countries”; and fired Ampad worker Randy Johnson, whose job disappeared when Romney’s Bain Capital acquired an office supplies plant in Marion, Ind., where Johnson was working in July 1994, and shut it down while taking millions in profits.

Johnson, who has become a near-constant media presence during this campaign, noted that many of the journalists in the room were “familiar faces.” About Romney, he demanded: “What kind of person likes to say he likes to fire people?”—referring to an offhand remark Romney made during the primaries about insurance companies. “I don’t see how we can let anybody like that get close to the White House.”

The Democrats will be at it all week, and Gibbs said he might be ready to stay on even though he brought only one suit to Tampa.