CLIFTON, Va. – An unrelenting President Barack Obama jabbed at Mitt Romney’s record with a private equity firm in an ad Saturday that aimed to keep his rival on the defensive just as the Republican challenger’s campaign hoped to take advantage of poor economic data to gain an edge on the incumbent.
Obama met Romney’s plea for an apology for the attacks with a mocking ad that charged that the firm shipped American jobs to China and Mexico, that Romney has personal wealth in investments in Switzerland, Bermuda and the Cayman Islands, and that as Massachusetts governor, he sent state jobs to India.
“Mitt Romney’s not the solution. He’s the problem,” the ad says as Romney is heard singing “America the Beautiful.”
Pressure was building on Romney from within his own party to be more forthcoming with his finances, a day after he declared he would not release past income tax returns beyond his 2010 tax records and, before the November election, his 2011 taxes.
On the sidelines of the National Governors Association meeting in Williamsburg, Alabama’s Republican governor, Robert Bentley, called on Romney to release all the documents requested of him.
“If you have things to hide, then maybe you’re doing things wrong,” Bentley said. “I think you ought to be willing to release everything to the American people.”
A soaked Obama, campaigning in a downpour in closely contested Virginia, hewed to his middle class-centered pitch in remarks in Glen Allen, which lies in the district represented by one of his top Republican nemeses, House Majority Leader Eric Cantor. He attacked Romney and his Republican allies for pursuing what the president branded as outdated and discredited economic policies.
Obama didn’t dwell on Romney’s business record, leaving the sharpest attacks to his campaign and the new television commercial. Still he played up the charge that Romney and the private equity firm he founded in 1984, Bain Capital, sent jobs overseas.
“He invested in companies that have been called pioneers of outsourcing,” the president said, his shirt drenched and water streaming down his face. “I don’t want pioneers in outsourcing, I want some insourcing. I want to bring companies back.”
Obama spoke to about 900 people in Glen Allen, arriving in a downpour. He eschewed a rain jacket or umbrella and apologized to the women for their ruined hairdos.
“We’re gonna have to treat everybody to a salon visit after this,” he quipped.
Later, as the rain continued without letup, he appealed for time to make one more point.
“Everybody’s wet anyway,” he said. “So it doesn’t matter. It’s too late. Those hairdos are all gone.”
Later Saturday, in Clifton, Va., Obama again tried to tie Romney to the loss of American jobs, contrasting himself with his rival.
“I want to stop giving tax breaks to companies that are shipping jobs overseas,” Obama told the audience of 2,100 at Centreville High School. “Let’s give those tax breaks that are investing right here in Virginia, right here in the United States of America, hiring American workers to make American products to sell around the world.”
Romney’s spokeswoman, Andrea Saul, fired back Saturday, accusing the president of being less than truthful about Romney’s record.
“The American people deserve the truth and they certainly deserve better from their president,” Saul said, from Boston.
While Obama hammered Romney for a second consecutive day in Virginia, Romney spent time with his family in New Hampshire. The candidate, taking a weekend off from public events, spent the morning at his lake house, working on his iPad on the lawn while his grandchildren played nearby. His last public event was Wednesday and he didn’t plan other public campaign appearances until Tuesday.
Romney aides began the week drumming Obama on stubbornly high unemployment but watched their upper hand fade. Romney’s advisers said Saturday they would keep their plan and not be distracted by Obama’s criticism. Romney aides declined to weigh in on Obama’s latest criticism and pointed to Romney’s television interviews Friday.
The intensifying attacks and the calls for greater openness came amid stepped-up attention to discrepancies between Securities and Exchange Commission filings and Romney’s recollection of his role at Boston-based Bain Capital.
At stake is Romney’s chief contention that as a former businessman, he has the experience to create jobs and spur a struggling economy. The Obama campaign has countered that Romney ran a firm that pioneered the practice of sending American jobs out of the country and that his background is one of an investor.
Romney insists that he stepped down from his private equity firm years earlier than federal records indicate.
The new Obama ad was set to run in closely fought Colorado, Florida, Iowa, North Carolina, New Hampshire, Nevada, Ohio, Pennsylvania and Virginia.
In a round of interviews broadcast Friday evening, the Republican candidate said he wouldn’t release more tax returns beyond the 2010 and 2011 returns.
“You can never satisfy the opposition research team of the Obama organization,” Romney told CBS on Friday.
And he demanded an apology from Obama for the attacks. “This is simply beneath the dignity of the presidency of the United States,” Romney told ABC.
Backhanding the request, the Obama campaign responded with a Web video that shows Romney criticizing Obama in speeches and interviews. Romney is seen accusing the president of not understanding freedom and following an appeasement strategy in foreign affairs, and saying he intends to “stuff it down his throat and point out that it is capitalism and freedom that makes this country strong.”
It wasn’t just Obama, though, pressuring Romney.
“There is no whining in politics,” chided John Weaver, a veteran Republican strategist. “Stop demanding an apology, release your tax returns.”
Obama said the questions raised in numerous media reports and highlighted by his own campaign aides were a legitimate part of the race for the White House.
“Ultimately, I think, Mr. Romney is going to have to answer those questions because if he aspires to being president, one of the things you learn is you’re ultimately responsible for the conduct of your operations,” Obama said in an interview with the District of Columbia’s WJLA-TV.
Romney called that “Chicago-style politics at its worst” and accused the president, who’s from Chicago, and his campaign of trying to shift attention from the economy and unemployment situation.
Romney declared he had “no role whatsoever in the management” of the company after he left to take over the Salt Lake City Olympic Games in early 1999.
Romney acknowledged that he would have benefited financially from Bain’s operations even after he left management of the firm to others. That could open him up to criticism that he gained from investment in companies that sent jobs overseas.
“All of the investors participate in the success or failure of various investments, just like you do as a shareholder of an enterprise,” Romney told CBS.
Bain Capital said in a statement that Romney “remained the sole stockholder for a time while formal ownership was being documented and transferred to the group of partners who took over management of the firm in 1999.”