Sherrod Brown: Trust Me, Bain Capital Attacks Work In Ohio

Sen. Sherrod Brown Ohio
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President Obama’s opening shots at Bain Capital prompted epic hand-wringing from Democratic supporters, who worried highlighting layoffs at companies bought by Mitt Romney’s firm could come across as too militantly anti-Wall Street. Sen. Sherrod Brown (D-OH) says Obama supporters who think the issue is a loser need to stop by the Rust Belt.

“It’s a loss in the Upper East Side of Manhattan,” Brown joked in a wide-ranging interview with TPM Tuesday.

But in Ohio, where workers are enjoying a recent bump in manufacturing after decades of decline, Brown says the message has an impact with voters, who are as upset with big finance and companies that outsource as they are at government. Obama, whose campaign has insisted that Romney’s business record will resonate with blue-collar workers, has a real opening to win them over, Brown said.

“People understand that this government and many of our major corporate leaders have had a bias toward financial services at the expense of manufacturing and that’s cost lots of people a chance to be in the middle class,” Brown said. “I think Bain Capital sort of sits at the pinnacle of that.”

Obama is certainly moving in that direction. In the past, Bain’s layoffs often made for an awkward talking point as campaign officials insisted that they didn’t mean to disparage private-equity firms or even Bain’s current leadership (one top executive is a big Obama donor), and even prompted a backlash within the party.

But a recent Washington Post story on Bain’s investments in companies that were “pioneers” in outsourcing has given the president a much more comfortable line of attack. Obama seemed downright giddy in a speech in New Hampshire on Monday in which he mocked so-called “financial wizard” Romney for trying to make a careful distinction between “outsourcing” and “offshoring” at Bain. Vice President Joe Biden followed suit Tuesday in Iowa, calling Romney “a job creator in … Singapore, China, overseas.”

One area where Brown suggested Obama could gain the upper hand: tougher talk on China’s trade policies regarding manufacturing, an area where Romney has consciously tried to make gains throughout the campaign.

“It would help if [Obama] labeled China a currency manipulator, which apparently his advisers don’t want him to do,” Brown said.

Brown said, however, that he doesn’t believe a word of Romney’s own pledges to crack down on such trade practices if elected, calling his stance “raw politics.”

“That’s not who he is, it’s not what he is,” he said. “It’s not what his contributors want.”

Brown has plenty of interest in seeing Obama succeed this November. He’s up for re-election himself and is already a top target for conservative outside groups, which have spent over $8 million on attack ads against him.

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