In one of the toughest attacks of the 2012 campaign, a pro-Obama super PAC released a battleground ad Tuesday that attempts to link Mitt Romney to the death of a former Kansas City steelworker's wife.
Romney's campaign responded harshly, calling the ad a "contemptible effort" to conceal President Obama's economic record.
But the ad marks a steady escalation in recent weeks in the charges being flung by both sides -- particularly by the super PACs, which are not technically an organ of the campaigns.
The Priorities USA ad focuses on the story of Joe Soptic, a former worker at GST Steel. He was among those affected when the firm declared bankruptcy in 2001, following the takeover by Romney's Bain Capital firm and other companies.
"I don't think Mitt Romney understands what he's done to people's lives by closing the plant," Soptic said in the ad. He recalled how when "Mitt Romney and Bain" closed the plant, his family lost their health care.
"A short time after that, my wife became ill. I don't know how long she was sick. And I think maybe she didn't say anything because she knew we couldn't afford the insurance," he said.
Soptic said that one day he took her to the hospital, where doctors found she had Stage 4 cancer.
"There was nothing they could do for her. And she passed away in 22 days," he said. "I do not think Mitt Romney realizes what he's done to anyone, and furthermore I do not think Mitt Romney is concerned."
The ad condenses a series of events that took place over several years, and Romney's ties to the situation are not clear.
Before the GST Steel closure, Romney left Bain in 1999 to work on the 2002 Winter Olympics in Utah. There have been ongoing disputes about his involvement with Bain during that period, since he was still listed as CEO in financial documents, but the campaign has maintained he effectively left the company in 1999.
Further, Soptic's wife died in 2006, according to a Kansas City Star article from the time. This would have been several years after the plant closed down, several years after Romney left Bain and as Romney was finishing his term as Massachusetts governor.
Romney spokesman Ryan Williams rejected the premise of the ad in a written statement Tuesday.
"President Obama's allies continue to use discredited and dishonest attacks in a contemptible effort to conceal the administration's deplorable economic record. After 42 months of unemployment above 8 percent, it is clear that the president and his campaign do not have a rationale for reelection," he said.
Asked about the ad in an interview with Fox News, Romney said Tuesday he hadn't had a chance to see it and couldn't comment. He said he's come to expect almost anything from Obama's team.