After weeks of pounding away at Mitt Romney's time at Bain Capital, President Barack Obama's re-election campaign has opened up a new front in its war on the Republican's approach to the economy, this time targeting his four years as Massachusetts governor.
The latest attack is still, at its core, about undermining Romney's contention that he would be a better steward of the struggling economy than the embattled incumbent Democrat has been—the central argument of the Republican's message to voters.
Team Obama unleashed a four-minute Web video, unveiled new online talking points for supporters, and planned to showcase its arguments in a press conference by senior strategist David Axelrod at the Massachusetts state house.
"Romney campaigned for Governor on the promises of more jobs, decreased debt and smaller government," Axelrod wrote in a five-page public memo previewing his message. "When he left office, however, state debt had increased, the size of government had grown, and over his four years, Massachusetts' record of job creation was among the worst in the nation."
"But when it comes to Mitt Romney and his economic philosophy the facts are clear—it didn't work then, and it won't work now," Axelrod wrote.
[Related: Condoleeza Rice endorses Romney]
Romney's campaign, which hopes voters will see the election as a referendum on the economy, wasted no time hitting back.
"If President Obama had even half of Mitt Romney's record on jobs and the economy, he'd be running on it," spokeswoman Amanda Henneberg said in an emailed statement that accused Obama of "years of broken promises and job-destroying policies."
The new Obama video's core message boils down to saying: Romney told Massachusetts voters in 2002 that his time at Bain made him an expert on job creation, but his economic record as governor was a failure, and now he's trying to pull the same trick on voters nationwide. The Romney campaign's response highlights the obvious political danger: Unemployment in Massachusetts dipped from 5.6 percent to 4.7 percent on the Republican's watch, while the national unemployment rate currently sits at 8.1 percent. And the latest news on the economy isn't all that reassuring. The Obama campaign has anticipated this counterattack, and argues that good data in Massachusetts reflected the national economy climbing out of a recession, while Romney was responsible for the bad news.Against that backdrop, the video opens with clips of Romney campaigning in 2002 and explicitly citing his business experience as evidence he would boost job growth in Massachusetts. It then cuts to clips of the Republican campaigning in 2011, making the same argument. And it enlists seven mayors and state lawmakers (all Democrats, none identified as such) to make the case against the former governor.
"Mitt Romney was not an effective leader in Massachusetts," says John Barrett, former mayor of North Adams. Then state Rep. Jay Kaufman adds: "I had worked only under Republican governors, and I worked really well with all of the others. There was really not much working with Mitt Romney." Moments later, a chart shows Massachusetts slipping from 36th to 47th in rankings of states according to job growth.
The ad then accuses Romney of breaking his pledge to raise taxes by hiking fees (as one Democratic officeholder charges that the former governor increased burial fees, the onscreen image of a cemetery flashes by). Barrett charges that Romney's approach "impacted mainly the average, middle-income person." The video pins rising Massachusetts debt on Romney. The Republican's aides in the past have placed that burden on the shoulders of lawmakers.
The back and forth reflects how neither candidate can afford to cede ground on the economy, the top issue on voters' minds and almost certainly the decisive factor in November.
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