Rick Perry is going all-out populist for his final advertisements in Iowa, accusing Mitt Romney and Newt Gingrich of being tools of “Wall Street” and “K Street.” But the most notable feature of his latest TV spot is its scorching attack on Romney’s jobs record at Bain Capital.
The Texas governor’s ad features the famed photo of Romney and his 1980s-era Bain colleagues covered in cash and, echoing Gingrich’s incendiary charge last week, accuses Romney of earning his fortune off the misery of pink-slipped workers.
“Mitt Romney: Wall Street,” the narrator intones. “He made millions buying companies and laying off workers.” It adds that Gingrich (“K Street”) “made millions off of Freddie Mac” working with lobbyists.
Perry’s positioning himself as the incorruptible “Main Street” guy, playing up his blue collar roots and Washington outsider image in hard contrast to his chief rivals. But his escalation against Romney is particularly important — Bain’s long history of layoffs has been a taboo topic for Republican opponents of Romney given that the issue is almost certain to be central to the Democrats’ 2012 strategy if the former governor wins the nomination. Until recently, it was mostly discussed in GOP circles as an electability issue, but Perry and Gingrich are now both on the record now slamming Romney in starkly moral terms that could just as easily be found in an Occupy Wall Street pamphlet. They could potentially do some real general election damage to Romney if the primary lasts long enough to put Bain in the spotlight. At the very least, they’ll provide Democrats some bipartisan cover when they raise the issue later.
Perry’s ad comes at a particularly sensitive time as Romney deals with a steady drip of tough stories on his Bain record in recent days. The New York Times’ reported this week that he’s continued to make millions on its investments (and their accompanying downsizing) since leaving the company as part of his retirement package, vastly widening the playing field for opposition researchers trying to tie him to Bain-connected layoffs.
That Perry is making his last-ditch stand on the issue should give a pretty clear indication of how powerful a political weapon operatives on both sides of the aisle think the Bain story is.
Benjy Sarlin is a reporter for Talking Points Memo and co-writes the campaign blog, TPM2012. He previously reported for The Daily Beast/Newsweek as their Washington Correspondent and covered local politics for the New York Sun.