WASHINGTON -- A slew of new battleground state polls released this week lend credence to the Obama campaign's argument -– often offered to reporters in private -- that attacks on Mitt Romney's tenure at Bain Capital are a winning strategy.
While President Barack Obama maintains a small lead nationally, in swing states like Ohio, Pennsylvania and elsewhere his margins are larger. The reason offered -- at least in the NBC/Wall Street Journal survey -- is the negative focus on Romney's private sector career.
For a presidential campaign that endured days of second-guessing over its decision to attack Bain Capital at the general election's onset, the numbers are being treated as nothing short of vindication. And for those Democrats who watched as their colleagues in the Northeast Corridor openly fretted about attacks on wealth, it was a chance to wonder aloud about the party's backbone.
"We are pussies, good God you can quote me on that," said David "Mudcat" Saunders, the longtime Democratic consultant. "There is nothing wrong with having a fine car and a fine house and living the American dream. But the greed! Bain Capital is about greed. ... It stinks morally."
Added another top Democrat, who lobbied the campaign privately to continue the Bain attacks: "It was surprising and disappointing that these folks who are politically on the tour -- they aren't novices -- would not understand that what they said had the potential to undercut the president's strongest message. It was like, 'Don't you realize you are in the fight of our life here?'"
Known for his ability to reach blue-collar voters, mainly in his home turf of Virginia, Saunders said he's seen a shift in voter perceptions of Romney since the Bain line started. A similar testimonial was offered by former Ohio Gov. Ted Strickland, who made the case well before Romney was the presumptive Republican nominee that the private equity work wouldn't play well with Buckeye State voters.
"Look, closing factories is a big deal. I think the vice president would say it's a big fucking deal," said Strickland. "I think the president should continue to bear down on that and I think it is having an effect. ... I think we've moved beyond [the argument over whether Bain is fair game] at this point. I would be surprised to see a round two from these folks."
Interviews with officials on both the Obama campaign and its allied super PAC confirm Strickland's theory of Bain's endurance. Privately, the president's political aides have long argued that focusing on Romney's private equity career was part of a more elaborate line of attack they hoped to stretch out through the summer. The design was to turn Bain into a liability before arguing that Romney applied those lessons to his time as governor and would do the same if elected to the White House.
Quibbles over that strategy from Newark, N.J., Mayor Cory Booker, Massachusetts Gov. Deval Patrick, former Pennsylvania Gov. Ed Rendell and others spurred a lengthy round of second-guessing, but not within the re-election apparatus itself. Priorities USA, the Obama super PAC, has put $10 million into anti-Bain television ads.
"Romney made his business career the centerpiece of his campaign. We’re just making sure people know the truth about it," said the group's founder, Bill Burton.
And while the Obama campaign has only spent $100,000 on anti-Bain ads (much of it to test voter reaction), recent polling news along with new reports that Romney invested in companies that were heavily involved in outsourcing seems poised to catalyze much more.
"This isn’t an idle point about his past," said one top Obama campaign aide. "This is the tenure he is basing his candidacy on, and the lessons and values he learned from that experience led him to present a tax policy during this campaign that provides additional incentives for American companies to outsource jobs."
Having argued extensively that Romney's private sector experience made him the ideal replacement for the current White House occupant, the Romney campaign has been left to scramble. Instead of calling Bain off-limits, they've been forced to argue that the coverage is unfair.
Top communications officials went to the offices of the Washington Post on Wednesday afternoon, with a 10-page memo in hand, demanding that it retract a report on Romney's investment in companies that outsourced. The meeting, which lasted an hour, did little more than draw additional attention to the initial story. The campaign also had prepared a two-minute video defending Bain's involvement with the company GST Steel, which Democrats have highlighted as a story of particularly insensitive greed. But when POLITICO reported the video, it suddenly was scrubbed from the Web.
A Romney spokesman, when asked about the renewed Bain focus, acknowledged that it was affecting the candidate's standing in the polls. But the aide added that those numbers will improve once Romney launches attack ads of his own.
President Obama has spent $55 MILLION on ads and has had one negative spot run against him, versus seven against Romney. President Obama has been preparing for this post-primary stretch for three and a half years. This should have been his best stretch, instead, despite outspending us 3 to 1, he limped along. The fact that he couldn't put Romney away yet is telling, we have just started to make our case against Obama.