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How Romney will respond to Obama's Bain attack

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Politics,Beltway Confidential,Byron York

The Obama campaign has released a new ad holding Mitt Romney responsible for the loss of 750 jobs in the bankruptcy of a steel plant purchased by Romney's Bain Capital in 1993. The ad, which will play in several key states, is accompanied by a new Obama campaign website, romneyeconomics.com, which tells the story of GST Steel, a Kansas City firm that went under in 2001, not long after Romney left Bain.

"I worked hard all my life and played by the rules, and they allowed this to happen," the site quotes one steelworker saying.  (The site relies mostly on media reports to tell the GST story.)

The Bain ad is not a "shiny object" to distract the public, as Mitt Romney recently dubbed the Obama campaign's focus on side issues intended to divert attention away from the president's economic record.  The ad is, instead, a direct attack on Romney's business record, on which the Republican candidate has built nearly his entire campaign.  Unlike gay marriage or the subjects of a variety of Twitter fights, it's an issue at the very heart of the campaign.

How will Romney respond?  The Romney campaign has given some broad hints lately.  First, the campaign has carefully scrutinized Romney's entire record at Bain and believes it is a strongly positive one overall.  But that is the big picture -- there are individual instances in which Bain investments failed.  Given that, look for the Romney campaign and its surrogates to counterattack by focusing on an instance in which Barack Obama, in essence, took over a company and laid people off in an effort to save the larger enterprise.

That was, of course, the auto bailouts, and while Obama often cites his success in "saving" the car industry, few remember today how many (non-union) workers lost their jobs in the Obama administration's handling of the matter.  During the economic crisis, General Motors and Chrysler shut down more than 700 dealerships, resulting in the loss of tens of thousands of jobs.  And the companies did it under pressure from Obama.

"President Obama’s auto task force pressed General Motors and Chrysler to close scores of dealerships without adequately considering the jobs that would be lost or having a firm idea of the cost savings that would be achieved, an audit of the process has concluded," the New York Times reported in July 2010.  "The report…estimated that tens of thousands of jobs were lost as a result."

The Obama administration argued that the loss of jobs was necessary to save far more (union) jobs at GM and Chrysler.  Now, the Obama campaign will likely say the same thing.  But in the auto bailouts, whatever else one thinks of them, Barack Obama pushed for downsizing and laying people off in a failing business he had taken over.

The auto industry example won't be Romney's only response to Obama's Bain attack.  But it will be part of a larger counterattack against what might be called Obama's own record in business.  "President Obama wants to make this race about anything other than his own record of failures in three and a half years in office," says a Romney spokesman.  "Any time he makes a false charge or attempts to distract from his own record, we're going to point out his own failures."

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Byron York

Chief Political Correspondent
The Washington Examiner