After a brief flare-up in the Republican primary, Mitt Romney’s record at Bain Capital is back on the table. President Obama’s re-election campaign on Monday accused the Republican nominee of causing untold misery for former workers at a steel company in Missouri, from unsafe conditions and reduced benefits to eventual mass layoffs.
“I personally saw the last bit of steel go through the furnaces,” Joe Soptic, a worker at GST Steel who lost his job when the company went under after being acquired by Bain, said on a campaign conference call. “To me it was like watching an old friend die and there was nothing you could do.”
Soptic described how his wife went on to wage an expensive, frustrating and ultimately unsuccessful fight against cancer that he said was made even harder by the loss of family health insurance in the bankruptcy. But even as the company’s workers struggled to pick up the pieces, Bain ultimately made a significant overall profit off its acquisition, from fees and dividends even as it ultimately collapsed under the weight of heavy debt, Soptic and Obama campaign officials stressed.
Obama deputy campaign manager Stephanie Cutter quoted a December interview in which Romney defended layoffs at companies as a normal aspect of investing in businesses, many of which were troubled when Bain acquired them.
“In the real world some things don’t make it,” Romney said at the time. “I believe I learned from the successes and the failures.”
Said Cutter: “Most Americans know that even in the real world, when you bankrupt a company you don’t walk away with millions.”
The conference call came on the heels of a new two-minute ad unveiled by the Obama campaign Monday featuring testimonials from people who lost their jobs at Bain-owned companies. One featured worker in the ad likens Bain to a “vampire.”
The Bain attacks are hardly a surprise: Both sides have anticipated they would be a factor in the race. Criticism of Bain has dogged Romney ever since his failed Senate bid in 1994. Republicans looked to turn things around Monday morning by highlighting quotes from former Obama adviser Steve Rattner, who called the latest ad “unfair,” and praised Bain’s record. He also, however, criticized Romney for claiming that his private equity work was concerned primarily with creating jobs, citing Romney’s oft-used but highly disputed assertion that Bain created 100,000 jobs under his tenure.
Asked about Rattner’s comments, Cutter insisted that the Obama campaign was not attacking the private equity industry in general, but was merely trying to deflate the notion that Romney was an “economic wizard” who could create jobs as president by applying his business model from Bain.
“Romney has put it on the table as his sole qualification to be president, and I think it’s important for voters to understand the lessons and values he drew from that experience,” Cutter said.
Romney was no longer running day-to-day operations at Bain when GST Steel closed down in 2001, a fact his campaign has used to rebut attacks on his record. Cutter said it’s a minor detail given that Romney still was listed as the company’s CEO and profited off its investments regardless of his level of personal involvement.
Romney spokeswoman Andrea Saul counterattacked in a statement, accusing the Obama administration of crony capitalism for using taxpayer money to support alternative-energy companies like Solyndra, whose bankruptcy has proved an embarrassment for the White House.
“We welcome the Obama campaign’s attempt to pivot back to jobs and a discussion of their failed record,” Saul said. “President Obama has many questions to answer as to why his administration used the stimulus to reward wealthy campaign donors with taxpayer money for bad ideas like Solyndra, but 23 million Americans are still struggling to find jobs. If the Obama administration was less concerned with pleasing its wealthy donors and more concerned with creating jobs, America would be much better off.”
Watch the Obama campaign’s ad below:
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.