Is attacking Bain a winner?

The evidence is tentative, but the strategy may be working for Obama

Topics: Opening Shot, Politics, Mitt Romney, Barack Obama,

The Obama campaign is out with another ad that plays up a recent Washington Post story about Bain Capital’s investments in companies that moved jobs overseas. A week ago, the campaign ran spots in three swing states that dubbed Mitt Romney the “outsourcer-in-chief.” The new blitz will apparently cover nine states and frames the presidential race as a choice between outsourcing and “in-sourcing”

In other ways, the president’s team has been playing the Bain card for months. A review by a media tracking company this week found that from April 10 to June 28 “100% of all ad occurrences sponsored by the Democratic super PAC Priorities USA Action have mentioned Bain Capital by name.” Priorities USA, which is run by two former Obama White House aides, says it has spent about $10 million so far on the ads, which have run in battleground states. Attacks on Romney’s time at Bain (and the nature of the private equity world) are a regular component of pro-Obama talking points.

The question of whether focusing on Bain – a strategy that some big-name Democrats publicly questioned — will pay dividends in November is still unsettled, but the early signs are encouraging for Obama.

An NBC News/Wall Street Journal poll last week of the battleground states where voters are most likely to have seen the Bain spots showed Romney with a favorable rating of just 30 percent and an unfavorable score of 41. 33 percent of respondents said that what they had seen or heard about Romney’s private equity past had given them a more negative impression of him, while 18 percent said it made them view him more positively. Polls in Ohio, Pennsylvania and Florida from Quinnipiac University also showed Obama enjoying healthy leads, with Romney’s image taking a hit.

From Obama’s standpoint, the optimistic take on this is that it demonstrates the resonance of Bain attacks and has established a template that the campaign can use to go after Romney for the rest of the campaign. The counter to this is that the evidence is still pretty thin – it’s only a few early summer polls, that there could be other reasons for Romney’s slippage, and that more bad economic news (the next jobs report comes out this week) could undo whatever gains Obama has made. Sure enough, there’s a new CNN poll out this morning that shows the national horserace stuck in familiar place, with Obama three points ahead of Romney. (The survey actually gives Romney an eight-point lead in the battleground states, but CNN includes three GOP-friendly states in its battleground list that the NBC poll didn’t include.)

While it’s too early to call the Bain strategy a success, it’s possible that it is working. This wouldn’t be unprecedented; Ted Kennedy famously used aggressive attacks on Romney’s business record as he turned an initially close contest into a 17-point rout in their 1994 Massachusetts Senate race. Of course, when Democrats tried the same strategy in the state’ 2002 gubernatorial race, they failed to gain traction, with Romney pulling away late to defeat Shannon O’Brien by seven points.

Who knows why the Bain strategy seemed to work in ’94 and to fail in ’02? It could be that it really didn’t matter in either race – that it received too much credit for Kennedy’s victory simply because the media covering the campaign heard so much about Bain and assumed there had to be a direct connection between the attacks and the election results.

But there is a potentially key difference between how Romney was viewed by voters in those two campaigns. In ’94, he came to the race unknown to virtually all of the state’s voters, a wealthy businessman who had no political experience and had never been in the public spotlight before. In other words: Easy for his opponent to define. ’02 was a different story. Romney came to that race as something of a local hero, fresh off his high-profile role rescuing the Salt Lake Olympics from ruin. In that campaign, voters saw him as more than a random rich guy running for office, which may have made it tougher for the Bain attacks to penetrate.

If that’s the case, then there may be hope for Obama’s strategy, since most voters across the country probably know about as much about Romney now as the average Massachusetts voter did in 1994.

Steve Kornacki

Steve Kornacki writes about politics for Salon. Reach him by email at and follow him on Twitter @SteveKornacki

More Related Stories

Featured Slide Shows

  • Share on Twitter
  • Share on Facebook
  • 1 of 11
  • Close
  • Fullscreen
  • Thumbnails
    Burger King Japan

    2014's fast food atrocities

    Burger King's black cheeseburger: Made with squid ink and bamboo charcoal, arguably a symbol of meat's destructive effect on the planet. Only available in Japan.

    Elite Daily/Twitter

    2014's fast food atrocities

    McDonald's Black Burger: Because the laws of competition say that once Burger King introduces a black cheeseburger, it's only a matter of time before McDonald's follows suit. You still don't have to eat it.


    2014's fast food atrocities

    Domino's Specialty Chicken: It's like regular pizza, except instead of a crust, there's fried chicken. The company's marketing officer calls it "one of the most creative, innovative menu items we have ever had” -- brain power put to good use.


    2014's fast food atrocities

    Arby's Meat Mountain: The viral off-menu product containing eight different types of meat that, on second read, was probably engineered by Arby's all along. Horrific, regardless.


    2014's fast food atrocities

    KFC'S ZINGER DOUBLE DOWN KING: A sandwich made by adding a burger patty to the infamous chicken-instead-of-buns creation can only be described using all caps. NO BUN ALL MEAT. Only available in South Korea.

    Taco Bell

    2014's fast food atrocities

    Taco Bell's Waffle Taco: It took two years for Taco Bell to develop this waffle folded in the shape of a taco, the stand-out star of its new breakfast menu.

    Michele Parente/Twitter

    2014's fast food atrocities

    Krispy Kreme Triple Cheeseburger: Only attendees at the San Diego County Fair were given the opportunity to taste the official version of this donut-hamburger-heart attack combo. The rest of America has reasonable odds of not dropping dead tomorrow.

    Taco Bell

    2014's fast food atrocities

    Taco Bell's Quesarito: A burrito wrapped in a quesadilla inside an enigma. Quarantined to one store in Oklahoma City.

    2014's fast food atrocities

    Boston Pizza's Pizza Cake: The people's choice winner of a Canadian pizza chain's contest whose real aim, we'd imagine, is to prove that there's no such thing as "too far." Currently in development.


    2014's fast food atrocities

    7-Eleven's Doritos Loaded: "For something decadent and artificial by design," wrote one impassioned reviewer, "it only tasted of the latter."

  • Recent Slide Shows



Comment Preview

Your name will appear as username ( settings | log out )

You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href=""> <b> <em> <strong> <i> <blockquote>