President Obama’s reelection campaign is reloading what it considers a powerful weapon against Republican challenger Mitt Romney: the disgruntled voice of someone who worked with Romney when he was governor of Massachusetts.
Eleven Massachusetts Democrats who overlapped with Romney between 2003 and 2007 will visit nine swing states this week in a foray timed to the first presidential debate on Wednesday in Denver. Since June, the Obama campaign has deployed more than two dozen current and former elected officials from Massachusetts to 11 states, where they have hosted more than 100 events.
The idea, Obama campaign spokesman Michael Czin said, is to make the president’s criticisms of Romney concrete.
“Those who served with Romney are in a unique position to tell voters across the country about Romney’s record of failed leadership and failed policies in Massachusetts,” Czin said.
“What I’ve found is voters are very interested in what Governor Romney was like when he was governor,” said state Representative Marty Walz, speaking by phone from a diner in Lebanon, N.H., where she talked to voters on Sunday. “People came to the diner to hear first-hand experience.”
Bay State Democrats like Walz bring a warning to the nation’s battlegrounds: Don’t be fooled, like we were.
“A lot of people in my family voted for Mitt Romney. Mitt Romney was an impressive candidate for governor,” said Somerville’s mayor, Joe Curtatone. “But he didn’t deliver.”
The Romney campaign called Obama’s strategy an effort to shift the focus off his own economic record.
“Under Mitt Romney, we will have progrowth policies that will turn our economy around, put our nation on a path toward a balanced budget, and get our country back on the right track,” Romney campaign spokeswoman Amanda Henneberg said. “President Obama and his allies will do anything to distract from his abysmal economic record, but the facts speak for themselves. We are happy to compare the 4.7 percent unemployment rate Mitt Romney achieved with President Obama’s record of 43 straight months of unemployment above 8 percent any day.”
Attacks from Romney’s home state highlight one of the the challenges he faces as a candidate from a place dominated by the opposite party. There is no shortage of Massachusetts politicians willing to blast him, a fact some liberal groups outside the Obama campaign are also taking advantage of.
Last week, US Representative Barney Frank starred in a video for the “Mitt Gets Worse” project, an effort by two super PACs to convince voters that Romney’s election would make life worse for sexual minorities.
“Don’t take it from us. Take it from the people who know him best,” said Rodell Mollineau, president of American Bridge 21st Century, one of the liberal super PACs behind “Mitt Gets Worse.”
For the Obama campaign, the locals’ chief objective is to undermine Romney’s claim to be the nation’s economic antidote, a business executive who will use the knowledge he gleaned in the private sector to create 12 million new jobs during his first term.
State Representative John W. Scibak and other surrogates will point to similar promises Romney made during his run for governor in 2002 and tell voters that he failed to keep them once elected.
“He said the same things 10 years ago,” said Scibak, who will stump for Obama in Wisconsin on Wednesday and Thursday. “Romney said he was going to create jobs, and our ranking went down.”
The fact that Massachusetts ranked 47th in job growth over Romney’s four years in office has been a major Obama campaign argument since May, when the president’s team launched its first round of advertisements criticizing Romney’s Massachusetts record.
The figure is accurate, though it measures Romney’s economic record by a full-term standard Obama does not apply to his own. Romney, like Obama, inherited a recession. In 2003, Romney’s first year as governor, the state’s workforce shrank by 1.4 percent, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. The decline ranked Massachusetts last in job creation.
In 2006, Romney’s last full year in office, the workforce grew 1 percent, and Massachusetts ranked 32d in the nation. The Romney campaign has called such progress a “turnaround.”
Similarly, Obama claims to have turned around an economy that was losing jobs at the beginning of his term. He talks often about the 4.5 million jobs added to the private sector since January 2010.
But that number excludes public-sector jobs and a full year of Obama’s presidency. In total, there are about 400,000 fewer people on nonfarm payrolls today than there were when Obama took office.
Scibak acknowledged similarities between the economic records of Romney and Obama. But, he said, Romney is also guilty of evaluating his own record by a more favorable standard than he grants his opponent. And, he contended, “the problems Obama inherited were much worse than Romney’s.”