A protester at a Mitt Romney fundraiser Monday in Portland, Ore., seemed… (Rick Bowmer / Associated…)
When President Obama's reelection campaign unveiled its ads blasting presumptive GOP nominee Mitt Romney's record at Bain Capital, it was only recycling a tired line of attack that had been tried unsuccessfully against Romney earlier by his fellow Republican hopefuls. The ads were deceptive (because they focused on a handful of Bain's failures while ignoring its successes), ineffective (because only far leftists would disdain Romney for managing a private equity firm, and they are already in Obama's camp), and irrelevant (because Romney's performance at Bain has little to do with his prospective performance as president of the United States). When no less a Democratic Party luminary than former President Clinton complimented Romney for his "sterling business career" last week, it hopefully signaled the demise of the anti-Bain message. Fortunately for Obama, his campaign is now plowing much more fertile ground.
Romney is going to need to take Obama's new four-minute campaign video a lot more seriously than the previous ones. By focusing on Romney's performance as governor of Massachusetts, it not only explores a topic that's directly relevant to his skills as a government leader, it devastatingly belies the GOP hopeful's claims that he is a job creator -- probably the key platform of Romney's campaign. On our relevancy meter, it's a Bull's-Eye.
Romney makes a habit of referring to his experience in campaign appearances, urging voters to look at his record as governor if they want to know what he stands for. But that record isn't particularly sterling, and until now it has received far too little attention outside of Massachusetts.
Despite his reputation as a flip-flopper, Romney's key messages have been fairly consistent in both his 2002 gubernatorial campaign and his current presidential run: He wants to slash government spending, freeze or reduce taxes and use his business experience to craft policies that create American jobs. Yet Obama's ad points out that in the four years of Romney's tenure, job growth in Massachusetts ranked 47th out of 50 states. Romney strategists have sought to downplay this by using different job statistics, but numerous media fact checkers have affirmed that Obama isn't fudging the numbers. Governors, of course, have very little power to create private-sector jobs, particularly in the midst of the kind of downturn that was hurting Massachusetts' high-tech and manufacturing sectors when Romney took office. Yet given Romney's constant (and increasingly grandiose) promises that he will cut U.S. unemployment if elected president, his failure on the jobs front as governor is more than a little noteworthy.
Other aspects of Romney's record are more favorable; as the candidate often points out, he was highly successful at tackling his state's budget problems. Inheriting a shortfall of $3 billion, he turned it into a $700-million surplus by the time he left office, and (arguably) kept his promise not to raise taxes while doing so. Yet, as the Obama ad points out, his record on taxes wouldn't tickle Grover Norquist. Instead of raising taxes, he raised fees for things like court filings and licenses while creating dozens of new fees, including a 2-cent-per-gallon charge on gasoline. He also eliminated "loopholes" in the tax code that had the effect of increasing the tax burden for businesses. None of this would bother Democrats, but for the independents who will decide the November election, taxes are taxes even if you call them "fees." Another body blow landed by Obama.
Whether one approves of the negative tenor of the Obama campaign to date or not, this is solid political advertising that is doubtless giving Romney's strategists fits. They'll need to do more than manipulate Romney's unimpressive job statistics to counter this one.