AdWatch: Romney's first ad defending Bain tenure

January 13, 2012 - 1:07 PM

WASHINGTON (AP) — TITLE: "Bright Future"

LENGTH: 30 seconds.

AIRING: In South Carolina.

KEY IMAGES: To the sound of stirring strings and electronic swooshing, the ad flashes grey-hued interior scenes shot at the Staples, Sports Authority and Steel Dynamics companies. Romney is shown touring the Madison Lumber Mill in Madison, N.H., during a Dec. 12 visit. Clad in a tan windbreaker, he is dressed informally like the workers he accompanies. A female narrator says the businesses Romney started created thousands of jobs, then swipes both at President Barack Obama (shown in a gray business suit, sternly pointing a finger) and at Romney's GOP rivals for attacking the free-market system.

"Mitt Romney helped create and ran a company that invested in struggling businesses, grew new ones, and rebuilt old ones, creating thousands of jobs," the narrator says. "Those are the facts. We expected the Obama administration to put free markets on trial, but as The Wall Street Journal said, "Mr. Romney's GOP opponents are embarrassing themselves by taking the Obama line." Romney and his wife, Ann, are then shown, smiling and wind-swept, in a black-and-white hilly landscape.

ANALYSIS: Despite racking up wins in the Iowa caucuses and the New Hampshire primary in recent days, the Romney campaign was caught off guard by harsh attacks on his tenure running the Bain Capital private equity firm in the 1980s and 1990s. Branded a "vulture capitalist" by Texas Gov. Rick Perry and targeted by a recent TV ad issued by a super PAC supporting former House Speaker Newt Gingrich that savages Bain-induced layoffs, the Romney campaign is now striking back with its first ad on the subject.

The ad's claim of "thousands of jobs" created scales back from an earlier Romney claim that Bain's investments had grown 100,000 jobs — a figure that has proven impossible to verify. Neither the Romney campaign nor Bain has produced a detailed rundown. The ultimate balance sheet may never be known because thousands of jobs were also lost at some of the firms Bain invested in during Romney's tenure. An Associated Press analysis of corporate reports and media coverage between 1984 and 1995 found at least 4,000 layoffs reported at Bain-controlled firms.

The ad, aimed at GOP primary voters, seeks to establish that GOP candidates who knock Romney's Bain experience are crossing a fault line by attacking the essence of the free-enterprise system — a foundation of the Republican Party's economic ideology and the lifeblood of much of its political activity.

Even before the Romney ad was released, Gingrich and Perry both had appeared to throttle back on their Bain references, although the super PAC ad backing Gingrich is still airing. The more telling reaction came from business interests, which were quick to unload on Romney's rivals for questioning his corporate moves at Bain. Although the ad's ultimate aim is to inoculate Romney from more Bain attacks during the primary, its glancing reference to Obama also presages a likely general election line of attack — that Obama has taken aim at the free enterprise system.