It is a maxim of campaigns that candidates sometimes ignore at their peril: Define yourself for voters before your opponent does it for you.
For weeks, Mitt Romney has left unanswered a barrage of attack ads by President Obama and his allies – to the growing consternation of some fellow Republicans.
In Ohio, Florida, Virginia and other presidential battlegrounds, commercials airing dozens of times a day have portrayed Obama’s Republican challenger as a corporate raider who enriched himself in deals that led to plant closings and thousands of layoffs. Romney, the ads say, shipped jobs to Mexico, China and India while stashing millions in personal profits in Switzerland, Bermuda and the Cayman Islands.
On Tuesday, Romney started responding.
In a one-minute ad to be aired jointly by his campaign and the Republican National Committee, Romney takes the wheel of an SUV and chats about his background while driving down a road.
“My own experience was I got the chance to start my own business,” he says. “I know what it’s like to hire people and to wonder whether you’re going to be able to make ends meet down the road.”
Romney goes on to say that he cleaned up a scandal when he ran the 2002 Winter Olympics in Salt Lake City and then worked with Democrats to cut spending when he was governor of Massachusetts.
Flashing on screen is a testimonial from former President Bill Clinton, an Obama surrogate who, in a decidedly off-message moment, is quoted saying that Romney “had a sterling business career.”
It is just the kind of ad that Republicans like Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker have been longing for Romney to start airing. Romney and his allies have been advertising heavily, but – on the theory that the election is, above all, a referendum on the president – the spots have focused relentlessly on Obama’s economic record and told viewers close to nothing about who Romney is. Walker told MSNBC last week that Romney’s approach was a mistake.
“There’s got to be something more,” he said. “People don’t just vote somebody out. They’ve got to vote somebody in.”
Obama campaign spokeswoman Lis Smith stayed on the attack, saying the new Romney ad failed to tell the true story of his background.
“In both the public and private sectors,” she said, “Mitt Romney’s record is one of outsourcing, job losses and massive debt.”
View the full Romney ad below: