* President’s team broadens attacks beyond business record
* Plans to question Romney’s claims of Massachusetts success
* Criticism of private equity work drew some backlash
By Jeff Mason and Andy Sullivan
CHICAGO, May 24 (Reuters) - After weeks of painting Republican presidential contender Mitt Romney as a job-slashing corporate raider, President Barack Obama’s campaign plans to broaden its focus to Romney’s time as Massachusetts governor, arguing his policies hurt the state.
The move, described by campaign officials, marks a sharp strategy shift from the campaign’s recent focus on Romney’s time as a private equity executive at Bain Capital in a bid to cast him as more concerned with the wealthy than the middle class.
The Obama team’s approach on Romney’s work at Bain has faced some criticism. Some saw it as hypocritical at a time when the campaign was seeking donations from private equity executives.
And while the attacks have been part of a strategy to define Romney as out of touch with most Americans, the presumptive Republican nominee has been rising in recent polls, most of which show the race in a dead heat.
By broadening its attack to Romney’s stint as chief executive of Massachusetts from 2003 to 2007, the Obama campaign will make the case that Romney’s economic philosophies have pervaded his career and would damage the country if he were to move into the White House.
“You’ll see over the course of this campaign a really strong connection between (Romney‘s) time at Bain and the values and lessons that he took from that,” said an Obama campaign official who spoke on the condition that he not be identified.
“He used those values and lessons in Massachusetts, and we’ll take a look at those results,” the official said.
The attacks are likely to focus on Romney’s record of cutting education funding and increasing the state’s debt.
Obama campaign officials are also eager to note that Romney, who spoke frequently about his time as governor in the 2008 Republican primary, barely mentions that time in speeches now.
It’s unclear whether the campaign’s assault on Romney’s governorship will match the intensity of the Bain onslaught, which has included Internet videos and TV advertising.
Romney’s business record has also come under attack by Vice President Joe Biden and other campaign surrogates.
The Obama campaign official said the focus on his record as governor would build on the Bain strategy.
“The next step is to build out. You know, he promises to take his business experience to the Oval Office, just like he promised to take his business experience to the state house,” the official said. “Let’s take a look at how that worked out.”
The arguments will not be totally new.
Coinciding with Romney fundraisers in Boston on Thursday, the Massachusetts Democratic Party held a news conference to discuss the former governor’s “failed record,” noting the state was ranked 47th out of the 50 states in job creation during Romney’s tenure.
And Obama’s campaign has highlighted Romney’s Massachusetts record previously in e-mail messages to reporters.
Romney has emphasized his background as a business executive to suggest he is better placed than Obama, a Democrat, to boost U.S. job growth and accelerate the country’s economic recovery.
Obama’s campaign has focused on job losses at companies that Bain acquired, while steering clear from the success stories of companies it built up or saved - a side of Bain’s corporate footprint Romney’s campaign touts.
Bain aside, there is plenty of fodder for Obama and his fellow Democrats to cherry-pick from Romney’s Massachusetts record. Romney closed a $1.2 billion budget gap in his first year in office in part by eliminating $277 million in education funding, which was shifted to local governments, according to the nonpartisan Factcheck.org.
Funding for higher education also fell $145 million that year. Average student fees rose 63 percent during Romney’s time in office, to $4,836, according to the Boston Globe, and tuition rose during that period as well.
Romney often says he balanced the state’s budget without raising taxes, but does not mention that he raised about $750 million in revenue each year by closing tax loopholes and raising fees, according to the nonpartisan Massachusetts Taxpayers Foundation.
The state’s long-term debt also increased by 16 percent during Romney’s tenure, according to state data, and in 2007, Massachusetts had the highest level of bond debt per capita in the nation.
“As a governor he cut funding for manufacturing and community colleges, didn’t invest in education - the cost of tuition soared - and vetoed legislation that would have prevented outsourcing while ... promoting special breaks for the wealthiest,” a second Obama campaign official said. “That’s the same type of economic philosophy he’s promoting right now.”
Romney has called the attacks on his business record a form of character assassination. Obama’s campaign rejects that view.
“Romney thinks that any discussion of his record is negative,” the second official said.
“He’s attempted to declare his record off-limits.”