The Obama campaign is opening a new front in its war against GOP rival Mitt Romney, ABC News has learned, with planned attacks to begin this week on Romney’s record as governor of Massachusetts and the campaign promises Democrats say he left unfulfilled.
Team Obama will point to Romney’s rhetoric on job creation, size of government, education, deficits and taxes during the 2002 gubernatorial campaign and draw parallels with his presidential stump speeches of 2012. The goal is to illustrate that Romney has made the same promises before with unimpressive results, officials say.
On jobs, for example, Romney pitched himself in 2002 as a conservative businessman who could right the economic ship after the tech bubble burst led to layoffs across the Bay State. During a Boston debate, Romney said, “I have experience in the private sector building and creating thousands of good jobs, and I want to bring that skill for you here in Massachusetts” – a theme he regularly reprises today.
Those promises notwithstanding, Massachusetts was 47th out of 50 states in job creation under Romney. In manufacturing jobs, Romney presided over a net loss of 40,000 jobs, a drop of 12 percent according to Labor Department data.
The Romney campaign was nonplussed by the new line of attack.
“Mitt Romney created more jobs in the state of Massachusetts than President Obama has for the entire nation,” said Romney spokeswoman Andrea Saul in response to the new Obama attacks. “We’re happy to compare the 4.7 percent unemployment rate Mitt Romney was able to accomplish any day against President Obama’s failure to meet his own goal of 6 percent right now.”
Economists say the dip in unemployment under Romney — from 5.6 percent to 4.7 percent — was largely because so many residents left the work force; as the Washington Post noted in February, one economist says that the only state to lose more members of the work force during that same period was Louisiana, which in 2005 was hit by Hurricane Katrina. Job growth did go up in Massachusetts with net positives in three of four years Romney served, but the pace was well below the national average during a boom time.
“He sold the same hooey in MA ten years ago, and then turned in one of the worst performances of any gov in the USA. 47th in job creation,” senior Obama strategist David Axelrod tweeted last week, hinting at the direction of the attacks to come.
The president’s campaign will use a number of former Massachusetts state officials who served with Romney between 2003 and 2007 to make their case, attacking him for, among other things, vetoing a bill against outsourcing. They also plan to release successive web videos to illustrate their points in what will be overall a national and state-level campaign, campaign officials said.
Less than stellar job growth won’t be the only Romney vulnerability that the Obama campaign hopes to attack.
Then, as now, Romney pledged he would close the state’s budget gap without raising taxes. In 2002, then-candidate Romney told voters that he would “fight taxes at every turn” and solve the state’s budget problem “without raising taxes.” He also opposes tax increases of any kind in his bid for the White House, writing in a USA Today op-ed earlier this year, “As president, I will firmly oppose tax increases.”
But as Factcheck.org notes, the “Massachusetts Department of Administration and Finance says that fee increases during Romney’s tenure added up to $260 million per year, with another $174 million raised from closing some corporate tax ‘loopholes.’ The independent Massachusetts Taxpayers Foundation puts the revenue total of fee hikes and tax loophole-closings at between $740 and $750 million a year.”
Romney’s claim that he stood by a no-new-taxes pledge as governor was judged by the libertarian Cato institute to be “mostly a myth.”
Similarly, Romney pledged as a candidate ten years ago to reduce the size of government; on the campaign trail he says he achieved that. ”We didn’t just slow the rate of our government, we actually cut it,” he told CBN earlier this month. It’s true that Romney cut 603 jobs from of agencies under his direct control, as the Boston Globe noted in 2007 — but overall the size of government grew.
The new attack from the Obama campaign appears aimed at least in part at shifting some focus off of President Obama, who in the latest ABC News/Washington Post poll has an underwater approval rating. The president has struggled to bring down unemployment, which is currently above 8 percent nationally. He and his campaign are aggressively trying to make Romney an unacceptable alternative on the November ballot.
Obama campaign officials say the latest line of attack will be a major focus from now through the election. It dovetails with a major $25 million positive TV ad campaign touting the president’s first-term record. A 14-page research document compiled by the campaign and obtained by ABC News reveals the breadth of material Democrats plan to deploy, listing dozens of examples of Romney rhetoric and corresponding video clips from 2002, 2012, and the comparative “results in Massachusetts.”
The strategy is a shifting of gears for Team Obama which had spent the past few weeks hammering Romney for his business record at Bain Capital. The attacks had come under fire from some Democrats as being possibly too negative, too soon, while Republicans decried what they called a double standard for Obama’s treatment of private equity executives.
“Governor Romney has made his experience as a financial CEO the entire rationale of his candidacy for president. Now, he doesn’t really talk about what he did in Massachusetts. But he does talk about being a business guy,” Obama said at an Iowa campaign rally last week. “He says this gives him a special understanding of what it takes to create jobs and grow the economy — even if he’s unable to offer a single new idea about how to do that, no matter how many times he’s asked about it.”
Obama strategists say they are not abandoning the assault on Romney’s record at Bain but broadening their case by turning to an array of issues the Republican dealt with during his time in political office.
As they did with case studies of companies adversely affected by Romney’s Bain Capital, the Obama campaign plans a methodical examination of issues from Romney’s governorship, hoping to dissuade voters from believing Romney can do what he says he can.
*This post has been updated to include a response from the Romney campaign and to add additional information about Romney’s gubernatorial record.
-Jake Tapper and Devin Dwyer