“He spent his whole adult life ... making money as a hedge fund manager, working through the Cayman Islands, doing tax shelters,” says a woman interviewed on the street for a campaign ad. “And I’m really concerned that he hasn’t released any of his financial records.”
The video looks and sounds like a spot attacking presumptive Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney; but it’s not. Instead, the Wisconsin Democratic Party Web video takes on GOP Senate candidate Eric Hovde, a wealthy businessman whose vulnerabilities closely mirror Romney’s.
The Senate race in Wisconsin is one of many Congressional races across the country where the national Democrats’ portrayal of Romney neatly coincides with Democratic Congressional candidates’ framing of their wealthy Republican opponents. Democratic strategists said that the national narrative about Romney reinforces the message that Republicans downballot also are out of touch, even if their campaigns are not explicitly drawing the connection to Romney.
“I think Mitt Romney is a caricature, a mascot for the Republican economic policies. He is emblematic of who they fight for,” said Matt Canter, Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee spokesman. “I think voters get that. I think that has had an impact on the atmosphere, and I think it will continue to have an impact.”
The Democratic attacks on Romney’s business practices and financial wealth have varied from complaints that he has disclosed too few years of tax returns to allegations that he has invested in companies that sent jobs overseas. Democratic criticism of GOP Congressional candidates picks up on a number of elements of the Romney criticism, varying from race to race.
The outsourcing issue has also taken hold in New York’s 1st district, where Republican candidate Randy Altschuler has come under fire for founding a company that helped businesses send jobs overseas.
The Democratic National Committee promoted stories offering a glimpse of Romney’s lavish lake home in New Hampshire. Accordingly, Democratic operatives sat outside GOP Rep. Jim Renacci’s large Ohio residence and recorded video that was later posted on YouTube.
Democrats are pursuing similar strategies in additional races that feature wealthy GOP candidates.
Sen. John Tester (D-Mont.) and former North Dakota Attorney General Heidi Heitkamp have both attempted to portray their opponents as wealthy and out of touch. Heitkamp’s campaign has released a video of opponent Rep. Rick Berg struggling to recall the state’s minimum wage.
The video calls him “millionaire Rick Berg” and ends with the assertion: “He wins, we lose.”
The Obama attacks on Romney’s finances and business practices appear to have met with some, though not overwhelming, success. The president’s slight lead in polls has not increased much since the onslaught of his attacks against Bain Capital, Romney’s former company, and the Republican’s refusal to release additional tax returns. But at the same time, polls also have shown that voters increasingly view Romney as out of touch with ordinary Americans­ — an image he has battled throughout his presidential campaign.
The results at the Congressional level are equally difficult to measure and will likely vary from race to race.
National Republican Senatorial Committee spokesman Brian Walsh said he believes the attacks will backfire and instead play into the GOP message that Democrats are punishing financial achievement.
“Senate Democrats know that they can’t run on their failed economic record, so they’re resorting to class warfare,” Walsh said. “This dovetails with the same attacks Democrats are making against small-business owners across the country.”
Regardless of the message’s success thus far, the issue promises to remain prominent late into this election season. Television ads criticizing Romney’s foreign investments continue to flood the airwaves, and a recent Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee ad campaign uses a spot titled “The Millionaires” to target Members who have supported certain tax cuts.
“We will be pointing out in races all across the country when Republican [Members] are voting to enrich themselves, whether it’s to pass more tax breaks for millionaires like themselves or to protect tax breaks [for other wealthy individuals],” DCCC spokesman Jesse Ferguson said.
But while many Congressional races have distinct similarities with the national race, strategists said they believe each race has its own nuances. Many campaigns, they said, have subtleties that do not align exactly with national messaging.
“Each of them has the same vulnerabilities that Romney does, but they also have [additional] vulnerabilities,” Canter said of many GOP Senate candidates. “Even though those hurt them, I think the reality is that their vulnerabilities are actually much worse.”
Altschuler is one candidate whose vulnerabilities surpass those of Romney in some ways. He operated a company with the sole purpose of outsourcing jobs. Romney only has ties to firms that employed the method.
Rep. Tim Bishop’s (D) campaign has already indicated that it plans to make the issue a top priority in the fight for the seat.
“The outsourcing issue with us is different from the outsourcing that you’ll see elsewhere,” Bishop spokesperson Bobby Pierce said. But “whenever they start about Romney outsourcing in the news, that’s good for us.”