Obama walks fine line in bashing Romney, courting Wall Street

WASHINGTON Tue May 15, 2012 9:55pm EDT

1 of 4. U.S. President Barack Obama pauses before he delivers the commencement address for the 2012 graduating class at Barnard College in New York May 14, 2012.

Credit: Reuters/Larry Downing

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WASHINGTON (Reuters) - For President Barack Obama's re-election team, it's sort of like threading a needle.

While trying to define Republican Mitt Romney as an insensitive job-killer during his time as a private equity executive, the Obama campaign also is raising money from private equity executives on Wall Street - and hoping voters don't see that as hypocritical.

The Obama campaign's political dexterity was evident on Monday, as it released a blistering video ad recounting how Romney's Bain Capital laid off 750 workers from a steel mill in Missouri. Hours later, the campaign raked in about $2 million at a Manhattan fundraiser held by Tony James, president of the Blackstone Group, a huge private equity firm.

The Blackstone Group had been on the Obama campaign's radar before - as a target for criticism.

Last month, the campaign identified a Blackstone partner, Paul Schorr, as one of "eight wealthy individuals" who donated to Romney's campaign after "betting against America" in "less-than-reputable" deals that led to outsourcing and layoffs.

So on Tuesday at the White House, Obama spokesman Jay Carney faced several questions about whether the president's campaign was setting a double standard in dealing with Wall Street, where some executives see Obama as anti-business.

Carney rejected the notion that Obama's team, in criticizing Romney and Republican donors in private equity, had been critical only of executives who had not contributed to Obama's campaign and that only those who support the president were "totally kosher," in the words of ABC's Jake Tapper.

Carney said that Obama's campaign was being critical of individuals, not an industry.

"There is absolutely a place for a vibrant and successful financial sector ... that includes private equity," Carney said.

NOT 'AGAINST PRIVATE EQUITY'

Carney's words were echoed by Bill Burton, who heads Priorities USA Action, a pro-Obama "Super PAC" that is spending $4 million to put out its own version of the anti-Romney ad released by Obama's campaign.

"The president isn't running against the private equity industry, he is running against Mitt Romney," Burton said. "Our ads ask whether the decisions Mitt Romney made creating incredible wealth for himself and his partners would make him a good president of the United States."

Not surprisingly, conservatives do not see it that way.

The Wall Street Journal published an editorial on Tuesday that chided Obama for attacking Romney's private equity work and then fundraising on Wall Street the same day.

The newspaper, an influential voice in conservative politics, said that those at the fundraiser, "many from the private equity world, paid $35,800 a head for the privilege of dining with the president who purports to loathe Wall Street when he isn't asking its greedy denizens to redistribute their wealth to his campaign."

FIRST IMPRESSIONS

Analysts said the attacks by Obama's campaign - and the counter-punching by Romney's team, which released a video ad showing workers from another Bain-owned steel plant praising Romney - were not surprising.

Although the election is more than five months away, the analysts said, this is a critical time in the campaign - especially for Romney.

Voters who were not focused on the Republican primaries may now be getting their first long look at Romney. So both campaigns are eager to create a lasting first impression of the Republican challenger to Obama.

"Some voters are just taking a first look at Romney, so the Obama campaign wants to shape the narrative," said Greg Valliere of Potomac Research group, which tracks political developments for investors. "Negative ads work. Romney should know, since he eviscerated (Republican rivals) Newt Gingrich and Rick Santorum with withering attack ads in the primaries."

Valliere questioned whether accusations that Obama is being hypocritical toward the private equity industry are likely to gain much traction with voters, who he said already are deeply distrustful of politics - and politicians.

"I think the irony is lost on the public," Valliere said. "Besides, he's a politician - what would you expect?"

Romney's campaign, which wants to focus the conversation on Obama's handling of the sluggish economy, said the president is trying to distract voters from his own record.

In a speech in Iowa on Tuesday, Romney blasted Obama as an overspending, "old-school liberal" whose economic policies are damaging the country and delaying critical decisions about government spending and debt.

"What President Obama is doing is not bold," Romney said. "It's old."

There were new signs on Tuesday of the challenge Obama could face at a time when the nation's unemployment rate is hovering at just above 8 percent and the economy is growing, but growing slowly.

A new USA Today/Gallup poll found that 55 percent of Americans expect the economy to get better during the next four years if Romney wins the election, while only 46 percent said it would improve if Obama is re-elected.

And 27 percent expect the economy to get worse under a President Romney, compared with 37 percent who expect things would become more sour if Obama wins a second term.

(This story clarified language in 19th paragraph)

(Additional reporting by Kay Henderon in Iowa, Gregory Roumeliotis in New York and Eric Johnson in Chicago; Editing by David Lindsey and Philip Barbara)

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Comments (22)
Sensibility wrote:
“Valliere questions whether accusations that Obama is being hypocritical …[and] were unlikely to gain much traction with voters, who he said already are deeply distrustful of politics – and politicians.”

“Besides, he’s a politician – what would you expect?”

Right there, crystal clear, is the essence of the problem. We have politicians in charge, and politicians, on either side, are just not trustworthy. Unfortunately, we cannot vote for non-politicians. Therefore, the best we can do is to vote out all ‘incumbent’ politicians.

May 15, 2012 9:02pm EDT  --  Report as abuse
BIGEEE1 wrote:
Obama understands more than most that he is in deep trouble attempting to secure a second term. Why? Because 3 plus years have shown that the man giving the speeches is completely different than the man giving the orders. He promised to halve the deficit in his first term but instead exploded it to historical and dangerous proportions. He promised transparency in government but then pushed through his Obamacare reform behind closed doors with members of congress voting on a huge bill that none of them had even read. He promised to unite the country but instead has, as a desperation tactic, pushed class warfare on a country where almost 50% of the population pay no federal taxes now. He has shown his total lack of leadership having his policy determined by polls as evidenced by his caving on the Keystone pipeline to the enviromental groups. So now, he is up against a guy that while not the best speaker in the world, actually has run large companies and made profits. While people criticize his years at Bain they need to realize that these firms don’t take over solid functioning companies. They take over companies in stress that are ready to go under and some they save (like Staples) and some they don’t (like GST). Hard decisions have to be made and they don’t have the public to bail them out with deficit spending of tax revenue like our past presidents. So, i am not surprised in the least to see Obama blasting venture capitalists while also courting their donations to his campaign. It is a continuation of a man whose record now shows that he says one thing and does another. Anything to get elected…anything.

May 15, 2012 9:28pm EDT  --  Report as abuse
Obama walks a fine line in bashing Romney.
Obama is a foolish man with no knowledge, of Business, Finance, or
Economy. Now he wants more regulations, he doesn’t know what kind of regs. are needed or what would work.

Obama have a cigar when you don’t have a teleprompter, it will help you keep you mouth closed and from saying stupid things without a script.

May 15, 2012 10:06pm EDT  --  Report as abuse
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