WASHINGTON (Reuters) - President Barack Obama’s campaign is preparing to attack Republican Mitt Romney’s business record with video of former workers from a Kansas City steel mill that went bankrupt while owned by Bain Capital, the company Romney co-founded.
The move is the latest sign that Obama’s campaign is firmly focused on the former Massachusetts governor despite Romney’s decisive loss to Newt Gingrich Saturday in the Republican presidential primary in South Carolina.
In defeating Romney, former House Speaker Gingrich captured the momentum in the state-by-state race to determine who will face Obama, a Democrat, in the November 6 elections.
However, Romney’s fundraising and organization generally are superior to Gingrich‘s, and after the January 31 primary in Florida the campaign heads to several states where Romney has significant advantages.
While tossing a few barbs Gingrich’s way, the Obama camp is directing much of its energy toward Romney and his career as a private equity executive to try to cast him as a job killer.
Bain Capital was involved in saving companies such as Staples and Sports Authority but also in laying off thousands of workers at companies it did not save.
Joe Soptic, a former mill worker in Kansas City, said the Obama campaign had filmed him and other former workers discussing how the plant became more dangerous under Bain’s tenure.
Soptic also discussed how he lost retirement benefits and health-insurance coverage when the plant went bankrupt in 2001.
Romney is “worth $250 million,” Soptic said he told the Obama crew. “He has more money than he’ll ever spend, or his kids will ever spend, or their kids will ever spend. How much is enough? ... How could you go to sleep at night knowing you’ve destroyed peoples’ lives?”
An Obama campaign official said no decision had been made on how, whether or when to use the video footage.
Soptic, however, said he was told that Internet and television attack ads were in the works.
Romney’s fellow Republicans - particularly Gingrich - attacked his business record before the South Carolina primary. Obama’s campaign is picking up that narrative, figuring that Romney’s more moderate background could make him a tougher opponent for Obama to beat in November.
Obama campaign manager Jim Messina released a memo on Monday with a list of weaknesses it sees with Romney, including his Bain background.
“Romney’s dodging on his tax returns and ever-evolving explanation of his job creation record at Bain has cost him 10 points among independents and 12 among moderates in just the last eight weeks,” Messina wrote.
“As Mitt Romney moves through the Republican primaries, he finds himself in an increasingly weak position among every category of voter critical for a Republican to win the general election.”
Romney’s campaign responded with an attack of its own.
“The last thing the White House wants is Mitt Romney as an opponent - which explains their ‘all hands on deck’ approach for their strategy to ‘kill Romney,’ the same way they engaged in a campaign of personal destruction against Hillary Clinton,” said Romney spokeswoman Andrea Saul, referring to Obama’s 2008 primary race with the former first lady, now his secretary of state.
“President Obama has presided over an unprecedented 35 straight months of 8 percent or higher unemployment so it’s no wonder his campaign is desperate to distract from his failed economic record.”
Gingrich drew some criticism from fellow Republicans for targeting Romney’s business background at Bain but Democrats see it as fair game.
Soptic was featured in a Reuters Special Report this month that examined Bain’s stewardship of GS Technologies, the steel company.
Former company managers and workers and independent analysts say that Bain’s decision to pay investors a $65 million dividend shortly after taking over the company in 1993 weakened its ability to survive difficult market conditions at the end of the decade.
Messina, the Obama campaign manager, zeroed in voter reactions to Romney’s Bain ties.
“In South Carolina, a heavily conservative state, more than a quarter of voters had a negative view of Romney’s record at Bain Capital - which he has made his central argument for the nomination,” he wrote this week.
“In Florida, things won’t get any better. At Bain, Romney invested in Dade Behring, a profitable medical-equipment company, ran it into the ground, and caused 850 workers in Miami to lose their jobs.”
Romney’s campaign has not addressed criticism of Bain’s oversight of Dade Behring. But it has emphasized Bain’s successes and said that as Bain overhauled companies, there was always a risk of failure.
Editing by David Lindsey and Bill Trott