Thanks to recent stories by The Washington Post and The New York Times, Bain Capital is back in the news. In particular, there’s a renewed focus on outsourcing; both newspapers found that Bain “pioneered” outsourcing during the 1990s, when it was led by Mitt Romney. This is an irresistible target for any political campaign, and it comes as no surprise to see that it's the core of a new ad from the Obama team in which the campaign asks—pointedly—“Does America need an outsourcer-in-chief?”
Of course, Barack Obama, like most Democrats, isn’t opposed to outsourcing. Like his criticism of NAFTA in 2008—which disappeared after winning the Democratic nomination—this is little more than a cynical political gambit. But for what the campaign is trying to accomplish, this doesn’t matter.
From the beginning, the Obama campaign’s assault on Bain has been dismissed as unfair and ineffective. East Coast Democratic elites are unhappy with the attack on Wall Street, and D.C. pundits aren’t convinced that there’s a relationship between Romney’s time at Bain and his current economic policies. But the Obama campaign isn’t aiming for New York and D.C. This pitch is meant for voters in Ohio, Pennsylvania, Wisconsin, and other Rust Belt states.
For Romney to win, he needs to consolidate a huge majority of the white vote. To paint Romney as an “outsourcer-in-chief” is to damage his credibility with the non-college-educated whites who will form the basis of a Romney victory in states like Ohio, Iowa, and Wisconsin. After all, these are voters whose lives have been most affected by the outsourcing pioneered by Bain-owned companies and who have been hit hardest by the relentless profit-seeking of companies like Bain. If the Obama campaign can identify Mitt Romney with outsourcing, then they can blunt his appeal with these voters and keep him from breaking the threshold for white support—around 60 percent.
Romney can’t just dismiss the Bain criticism as an “attack on free enterprise.” As long as he refuses to address Bain head on, he gives Obama the space to tie him to outsourcing. If Romney can’t score a win in Wisconsin, Ohio, or Pennsylvania and continues to be locked out of states like Colorado and Virginia, then it’s hard to see how he gets to 270 electoral votes.