Washington Matters


Obama Tries to Offset So-So Economy with Early Start on Ads

Kenneth R. Bazinet

Advisers see Romney's work at Bain as an opening for the president to gain in the 2012 White House race.



President Obama wants to to turn venture capitalism into the bane of Mitt Romney's existence, transforming Romney's tenure as head of Bain Capital into a negative as voters try to decide between the two main presidential candidates.

SEE ALSO: 5 Economic Issues That Will Drive 2012 Elections

The strategy, built around advertising and free media, is part of an effort by Obama's campaign team to convince voters that his programs are slowly stoking the engines of commerce, though it's taking longer than expected to get the economy moving at full speed again. The goal is to portray Obama as a builder and Romney as a demolition man.

Obama's handlers have already invested more than $25 million in late-spring TV ads in just a handful of states. This is an unusually expensive investment this early in the game, especially for an incumbent.

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Most of the money is funding a positive message in Colorado, Florida, North Carolina, Iowa, Ohio, Virginia, Pennsylvania, New Hampshire and Nevada. The ad says the economy was bleak when Obama took office, then highlights steps the White House claims helped the economy bottom out and begin to move toward a soft recovery. For good measure, the spot includes an unambiguous reference to the demise of Osama bin Laden.

Just a fraction of the money is for an ad that goes after Romney, painting him as a greedy job slasher who profited when Bain Capital bought a Kansas City, Mo., steel plant in 1993 and put employees out of work when Bain shut it down.

The attack aired only briefly in Colorado, Iowa, Ohio, Pennsylvania and Virginia, but you wouldn't know that based on media coverage of its launch. Obama advisers insist that the free media coverage gave the spot more bang for the buck than they had expected.

And that's just the beginning. At some point, Obama's ads will feature a lineup of Republicans to deliver the "Bain is bad" message. Just about the entire GOP primary field attacked Romney as a slash-and-burn venture capitalist, so there's plenty of videotape of fellow Republicans firing away at the former Massachusetts governor.

Obama wants every voter to know the name Bain Capital before November. Plans are in the works for a new round of Bain ads. They'll be up for sure by the time of the Republican convention in Tampa, Fla., in August, and may even start running before the Fourth of July holiday.

Obama is being both preemptive and precautionary in trying to get ahead of any downturn in the U.S. economy. And for good reason.

When Obama's campaign team reads the global economic tea leaves, this is what it sees: Elections in France, Greece and Germany were a firm rejection of German Chancellor Angela Merkel's austerity-only agenda for Europe, and several countries, including Great Britain, are slipping back into recession. Even China's robust economy is slowing at a much faster than anticipated rate. Those conditions are spooking some U.S. economists, who warn that ripples will be felt in the states.

Closer to home, Wall Street just recorded its worst week in 2012, U.S. job creation is falling away from optimistic recent highs, and with gas prices still high, some Americans won't be traveling far for their vacations. Those are ugly realities for an incumbent to face.

Obama's handlers insist they don't fear an economic Armageddon, but they do admit wanting to be ready for the worst.

Launching ads now is part of their preparation.



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