WASHINGTON - President Obama and top Democrats are planning a key-state offensive aimed at Mitt Romney, accusing the former Massachusetts governor of promoting policies that send American jobs overseas.
Democrats are highlighting decisions Romney made while he was chief executive of Bain Capital, as well as moves he made as governor of Massachusetts, in hopes of undermining his support by blue collar workers in states such as Ohio and Pennsylvania, where manufacturing jobs have moved overseas.
The effort is yet another indication of the rapidly shifting campaign dynamics as Obama and Romney move toward the general election before the Republican primary is over. Both sides have ample opposition research ready to disperse - at least one of the Democrats’ early attacks has already been labeled misleading by Romney aides and independent fact-checkers - and are focusing their efforts on about a dozen key states that will probably be decisive in November.
For starters, Democrats are publicizing a veto that Romney issued in 2004, midway through his term as governor. The state Legislature, as part of the annual budget, included a provision that would have prohibited the Bay State from contracting with companies that outsource the state’s work to other countries.
The provision was aimed at stopping a practice in which firms used workers in Bangladesh to enter state Medicaid data and had call centers in India fielding questions from Massachusetts residents about their food stamps. It came as states around the country were wrestling with whether to retain jobs at home or save taxpayer dollars by working with contractors that relied on cheaper overseas labor.
‘I’m tempted to say, Mitt, thanks for the memories.’Vice President Joe Biden
Kansas lawmakers, for example, considered a similar provision to bar certain overseas call centers, only to scrap those plans once they realized it would boost the state’s costs by $640,000. New Jersey, though, built a $1 million call center instead of contracting the work overseas.
Romney argued at the time that the legislation would do little to add jobs to Massachusetts, saying it would have only benefited other states that have call centers and would have added costs to the state budget.
Romney told the Globe in 2004: “The legislation I vetoed was not designed to do anything for Massachusetts employers. It might help ‘call center’ states, but it didn’t necessarily protect a single job here. But it had the potential of costing our citizens a lot more money.’’
The editorial pages of both The Boston Globe and the Boston Herald urged Romney to veto the measure. After he did, it was not among the dozens of vetoes that the Legislature overturned.
Several months earlier, Romney had filed his own plan to curb outsourcing in Massachusetts, but it received little consideration in the Democratic-dominated Legislature. Romney’s three-pronged plan would have used $29 million for loans and grants for Massachusetts companies that stay in the state, create jobs, or hire workers who recently lost jobs.
“The reality of today’s business climate is that a growing number of companies are sending their best jobs out of state,’’ Romney said at the time. “Whether it’s the loss of one job or 100,000 jobs, it’s a very real issue for all of us. These common-sense initiatives will help slow outsourcing and speed up insourcing.’’
Outsourcing - which many businesses have used - involves shifting personnel costs overseas, where employees are willing to work for less pay. It can become a particularly potent issue, highlighting lost jobs for Americans.
The practice became an issue during the 2004 presidential race, with Senator John F. Kerry accusing President George W. Bush of supporting tax policies that encouraged companies to take their business overseas.
Obama’s campaign is now making a similar argument against Romney, so far by using Vice President Joe Biden as the attack dog.
“Look, think about it, a Massachusetts taxpayer . . . picks up the phone, dials an 800 number expecting to talk to somebody in the Massachusetts government to get an answer to their question,’’ Biden said last week in Iowa. “And instead, he’s talking to - or she’s talking to - someone on the other side of the world, and all of it paid for by his or her tax dollars.’’
Fact checkers have called Biden’s comments misleading. The Washington Post, which regularly fact-checks such statements, gave Biden’s remarks two Pinocchios, saying the vice president “has taken a single fact and blown it out of proportion.’’
A Romney spokeswoman criticized Biden and also pointed out that some members of Obama’s jobs council represent companies that have laid off American workers and shifted investments overseas.
“Vice President Biden’s latest false attacks are as absurd as his claim that President Obama’s energy policy is ‘the best it’s ever been,’ ’’ said spokeswoman Andrea Saul. “President Obama and his team cannot answer for their miserable record on the economy . . . and thus are resorting to attacking Mitt Romney.’’
Biden also mentioned some of the decisions Romney made while running Bain, and Obama’s campaign has compiled a long list of talking points aimed to deconstruct some of the decisions made while Romney was running the private equity firm.
“Bain Capital closed down two factories in South Florida that made medical devices, moving the production to Germany,’’ Biden said. “They shut down a plant in South Carolina and cut jobs in another one in Rhode Island that made photo albums and picture frames, and outsourced production overseas. I’m tempted to say, Mitt, thanks for the memories. You know what I mean?’’
Matt Viser can be reached at email@example.com.