Undeterred by criticism from a prominent Democratic supporter, the Obama campaign is pressing on with their attack against Mitt Romney’s work at Bain Capital, holding a press call with Randy Johnson, a worker who lost his job at Ampad after Bain Capital took it over and laid off hundreds of Indiana workers.
“Romney economics devastated my family and devastated the workers’ families and the communities,” Johnson told reporters. “President Obama sticks up for the middle class, and Mitt Romney sticks it to us. That’s what this election is about: the difference between those values.”
Johnson, a former Ampad worker, has dogged Romney for years, volunteering his time to publicly tell his story in state and national campaigns alike. In 1994, Ampad’s struggling workers were seen as critical to Sen. Ted Kennedy’s victory over Romney, recounting how Bain fired all 350 of its workers at a Marion plant, then asked them to reapply for the same job with worse benefits. The plant was closed entirely after the election, and the company went bankrupt in 2000, leaving more out of jobs. Earlier this year, Johnson teamed up with Democrats to hold press events in early Republican primary states as Romney’s Republican rivals used stories like his to go after the frontrunner. Johnson is one of several workers highlighted in a five-minute video released by the Obama campaign on Monday about Ampad.
Adding a new wrinkle to the story, Obama officials are highlighting recent reports that after more than a decade of bankruptcy proceedings, Ampad’s many creditors received just $330,000 out of $170 million owed. Bain made $100 million off its involvement in the company.
“His creditors get to wait 11 years to find out they’re getting a fraction of a fraction of a fraction of what they’re owed,” Obama press secretary Ben LaBolt said on the call. “It was heads I win, tails you lose.”
The Obama campaign’s rollout has been plagued by a handful of off-message Democratic politicians and fundraisers, who Republicans have looked to use as a wedge.
Cracks began showing early on. While Obama campaign officials have insisted that they have no problem with private equity in general, Republicans have pointed to a number of Democratic donors in the finance industry, some of whom have publicly defended Romney from charges of vulture capitalism. One top Obama bundler, Jonathan Lavine, is an executive at an affiliate of Bain Capital.
But things hit their low point on Sunday, when Newark, N.J., Mayor Cory Booker, considered a rising star in the Democratic Party, blindsided the campaign by comparing the Bain attacks to Republicans’ use of Jeremiah Wright to go after Obama in a “Meet the Press” appearance. After an outcry from Democrats, Booker quickly clarified his remarks with a four-minute video message. LaBolt tweeted an edited 35-second clip in which Booker criticized Romney and said his private-sector experience was fair game. Left out of the condensed version, however, was a passage in which Booker reiterated some of his initial complaints about “negative campaigning.”
Republicans broadcast Booker’s initial remarks far and wide, and the RNC launched a petition to “Stand With Cory.”
LaBolt insisted to reporters that Booker was on the same page as Obama, noting that the mayor had called out Romney for “not being completely honest with his role and his record” in the follow-up video. He also dismissed criticisms that the campaign had become overly negative.
“Mr. Romney believes that any discussion about his record is automatically negative campaigning, which tells you something about his record,” LaBolt said.
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.