05/24/2012 10:46 pm ET Updated Jul 25, 2012

Obama Campaign Targeting Mitt Romney's Record As Massachusetts Governor

* President's team broadens attacks beyond business record

* Obama foreshadows new strategy at Iowa campaign rally

* Aides to criticize Romney's time as Massachusetts governor

* Romney campaign says Obama has his own record to defend

By Jeff Mason and Laura MacInnis

CHICAGO/DES MOINES, Iowa, May 24 (Reuters) - After weeks of painting Republican presidential contender Mitt Romney as a job-slashing corporate raider, President Barack Obama and his re-election campaign are broadening their attack to include Romney's record as Massachusetts governor, arguing his policies hurt the state.

Obama, in an impassioned campaign speech in the battleground state of Iowa on Thursday night, foreshadowed that shift in strategy when he said Romney had made his business experience the centerpiece of his candidacy but "doesn't really talk about what he did in Massachusetts."

The move, described by campaign officials, marks a change from the campaign's recent main focus on Romney's time as a private equity executive at Bain Capital aimed at casting him as more concerned with the wealthy than the middle class.

The Obama team's approach on Romney's work at Bain has faced some criticism. Some saw it as hypocritical at a time when the campaign was seeking donations from private equity executives.

And while the attacks have been part of a strategy to define Romney as out of touch with most Americans, the presumptive Republican nominee has been rising in recent polls, most of which show the race in a dead heat.

Despite that, Obama pressed his assault on Romney's private equity background in his toughest terms so far and mocked him for saying "corporations are people," a comment he made last August while campaigning in Iowa.

Obama also rebutted Romney's recent claim that the Democratic president had created a "prairie fire of debt" since taking office, dismissing that as a "cow pie of distortion."

"Governor Romney has made his experience as a financial CEO the entire rationale for his candidacy," Obama told a boisterous rally of about 2,500 people inside a barn like building at the state fairgrounds in Des Moines.

He suggested Romney did not want to remind voters of his credentials outside the corporate world "but he does talk about being a business guy."

"He says this gives him a special understanding of what it takes to create jobs and grow the economy - even if he's unable to offer a single new idea about how to do that," Obama told the Iowa crowd, who booed loudly when Romney's name was mentioned.

"So I think it's a good idea to look at the way he sees the economy," the president continued. "He sincerely believes that if CEOs and wealthy investors are getting rich, then the wealth is going to trickle down and the rest of us are going to do well, too. And he is wrong."

Though Obama did not explicitly assail Romney's record as governor of Massachusetts from 2003 to 2007, campaign officials made clear this would be their new focus in the weeks ahead.


By broadening its attack, the Obama re-election team will make the case that Romney's economic philosophies have pervaded his career and would damage the country.

Romney's campaign quickly pushed back.

"By the end of this year, President Obama will have presided over a record-shattering four consecutive trillion-dollar deficits and added an historic amount to our national debt. Our children will be footing the bill for his failed policies years from now," said Ryan Williams, a Romney spokesman.

"It's as if he's forgotten that he's been president for nearly four years and has a record to defend," Williams said.

An Obama campaign official, who spoke on the condition of anonymity, said: "You'll see over the course of this campaign a really strong connection between (Romney's) time at Bain and the values and lessons that he took from that."

"He used those values and lessons in Massachusetts, and we'll take a look at those results," the official said.

The attacks are likely to focus on Romney's record of cutting education funding and increasing the state's debt.

Obama campaign officials are also eager to note that Romney, who spoke frequently about his time as governor in the 2008 Republican primary, barely mentions that time in speeches now.

It's unclear whether the campaign's assault on Romney's governorship will match the intensity of the Bain onslaught, which has included Internet videos and TV advertising.

The Obama campaign official said the focus on his record as governor would build on the Bain strategy.

"The next step is to build out. You know, he promises to take his business experience to the Oval Office, just like he promised to take his business experience to the state house," the official said. "Let's take a look at how that worked out."

The arguments will not be totally new.

Coinciding with Romney fundraisers in Boston on Thursday, the Massachusetts Democratic Party held a news conference to discuss the former governor's "failed record," noting the state was ranked 47th out of the 50 states in job creation during Romney's tenure.


And Obama's campaign has highlighted Romney's Massachusetts record previously in email messages to reporters.

Romney has emphasized his background as a business executive to suggest he is better placed than Obama, a Democrat, to reduce high unemployment and accelerate the fragile economic recovery, the public's chief concerns in the November election.

Obama's campaign has focused on job losses at companies that Bain acquired, while steering clear from the success stories of companies it built up or saved - a side of Bain's corporate footprint Romney's campaign touts.

Bain aside, there is plenty of fodder for Obama and his fellow Democrats to cherry-pick from Romney's Massachusetts record. Romney closed a $1.2 billion budget gap in his first year in office in part by eliminating $277 million in education funding, which was shifted to local governments, according to the nonpartisan Factcheck.org.

Funding for higher education also fell $145 million that year. Average student fees rose 63 percent during Romney's time in office, to $4,836, according to the Boston Globe, and tuition rose during that period as well.

Romney often says he balanced the state's budget without raising taxes, but does not mention that he raised about $750 million in revenue each year by closing tax loopholes and raising fees, according to the nonpartisan Massachusetts Taxpayers Foundation.

The state's long-term debt also increased by 16 percent during Romney's tenure, according to state data, and in 2007, Massachusetts had the highest level of bond debt per capita in the nation.

"As a governor he cut funding for manufacturing and community colleges, didn't invest in education - the cost of tuition soared - and vetoed legislation that would have prevented outsourcing while ... promoting special breaks for the wealthiest," a second Obama campaign official said. "That's the same type of economic philosophy he's promoting right now."

Romney has called the attacks on his business record a form of character assassination. Obama's campaign rejects that view.

"Romney thinks that any discussion of his record is negative," the second official said. "He's attempted to declare his record off-limits."