Questions surrounding Mitt Romney’s tenure at Bain Capital are doing considerable damage to his presidential prospects. And the Romney campaign has no effective response to stop the bleeding.
In a survey of battleground states released last Monday by the non-partisan group, Purple Strategies, nearly 40 percent of voters said new information they had learned in the past week gave them a less favorable view of the former Massachusetts governor.
According to the same poll, 42 percent of independent voters said Romney was “too out of touch” to be president. Romney’s favorability numbers also have dropped from June in Colorado, Ohio and Virginia.
According to Google, Internet searches for “Bain Capital” have increased exponentially within the last two weeks, as questions about Romney’s involvement with the firm have persisted.
Google is able to break down the increase in search traffic for Bain by state. They report that Ohio, Florida, Pennsylvania, North Carolina and Virginia are among the states with the sharpest increase in Internet traffic for Bain. These are also states where Romney’s years at Bain are the basis for attack advertisements from the Obama campaign.
The latest Bain attacks on Romney are, of course, part of a strategy by Team Obama to turn Romney’s biggest perceived strength – his business experience -- into his biggest weakness.
The strategy calls to mind the playbook used by the Bush-Cheney campaign and its allies in 2004 against John Kerry. Kerry’s biggest perceived strength was his military service in Vietnam. Through the barrage of Swift Boat advertisements, Bush was able to turn Kerry’s service into a liability.
In an NBC News/Wall Street Journal poll taken in late June nationwide, 23 percent view Romney more positively because of his business career, 28 percent view him more negatively. Yet in swing states, including Ohio, Florida and Virginia, only 18 percent see his business experience positively, while 33 percent see it negatively.
The Obama strategy is working and it gained momentum recently when the Boston Globe reported Romney may have misrepresented his position at Bain in official reports submitted to the Securities and Exchange Commission.
Romney has repeatedly and unequivocally stated that he left Bain in “February of 1999.”
He did this, in part, to distance himself from management decisions made by Bain after 1999 that resulted in their businesses closing down American plants and sending jobs overseas.
The reports show that Romney was listed as a managing partner and drawing an annual salary of “over $ 100,000,” in 2001 and 2002.
President Obama’s Deputy Campaign Manager Stephanie Cutter said subsequently that “Romney might have committed a felony by telling the Securities and Exchange Commission that he was Bain’s sole owner, board chairman, chief executive and president at a time when he now says he no longer played any role in the firm.”
That may be harsh. But Robert Bauer, the Obama campaign’s lead attorney, supported the charge of a possible felony.
Last month, Republicans in Congress held the attorney general of the United States in contempt because he allegedly misrepresented his knowledge of Fast and Furious in documents submitted to Congress. But when it comes to their presidential nominee, misrepresentations in government documents no longer matter to the GOP?
And then there is Romney’s refusal to release more than one or two years of tax returns. Leading Republicans from Haley Barbour, the former Mississippi governor, to Alabama Gov. Robert Bentley and Rep. Ron Paul of Texas have called on Romney to release more tax returns. So have conservative writers Bill Kristol and George Will.
The first rule of politics is that perception is reality. Right now, voters are beginning to perceive that Romney is trying to conceal something about his tenure at Bain – just as he is trying to conceal something about his personal finances by not releasing his tax returns.
Romney needs to come clean or his hopes of being president will end long before Election Day.
Juan Williams is a co-host of FNC's "The Five," where he is one of seven rotating Fox personalities.