Philadelphia labor leaders came out to endorse President Barack Obama this week as his campaign launched a new television ad that will be shown in five battleground states — including Pennsylvania.
“He’s the strongest president I’ve seen in my lifetime since Franklin Delano Roosevelt,” said Pat Eiding, president of the Philadelphia Council of the AFL-CIO, who, along with U.S. Rep. Jan Schakowsky of Illinois, spoke Tuesday at the AFL-CIO headquarters on South 22nd Street.
They also unveiled a two-minute television spot that aired Wednesday in Pennsylvania, Iowa, Ohio, Virginia and Colorado.
The ad focuses on a Kansas City, Mo., steel company that closed down after being purchased by Mitt Romney’s private equity firm, Bain Capital. The commercial shows interviews with former workers at the plant who said Bain’s role led to job losses and slashed benefits. It intersperses their claims with clips of Romney promoting his business background and empathizing with the jobless during campaign events.
“They made as much money off of it as they could. And they closed it down,” says Joe Soptic, a steelworker for 30 years. Jack Cobb, who also worked in the industry for three decades, adds: “It was like a vampire. They came in and sucked the life out of us.”
The spot is the first one by the Obama campaign that specifically attacks Romney’s tenure at Bain. In addition to the ad, the campaign also rolled out a website called RomneyEconomics.com.
Romney campaign officials said they welcome any discussion about jobs.
“Mitt Romney helped create more jobs in his private sector experience and more jobs as governor of Massachusetts than President Obama has for the entire nation,” Romney spokeswoman Andrea Saul said in a statement.
Both candidates were entering a new week in the campaign seeking to shift the focus back to voters’ No. 1 issue, the economy, from social issues that dominated after the president announced his support for gay marriage.
Obama is trying to convince voters to stick with him as he heralds an economic rebound, as sluggish as it is. Romney counters that Obama has had enough time, and only he — with his deep background in business — knows how to jumpstart the nation’s job market.
Romney, a multimillionaire, left Bain in 1999 to run the Salt Lake City Olympic Games, but maintained a financial interest in the company after departing. He has said that his firm had a strong overall track record, creating jobs in prominent companies like Staples and Sports Authority, while acknowledging that some companies Bain invested in were unsuccessful.
Obama’s new ad, which reprises criticism leveled at Romney during the Republican primaries, focuses on one of those unsuccessful companies, GST Steel.
Bain was the majority shareholder in GST Steel beginning in 1993. The company eventually filed for bankruptcy in 2001, a period in which the U.S. steel industry was roiled by a flood of cheap steel imports. About 750 workers lost their jobs, and were left without health benefits and with reduced pensions. The federal government was forced to infuse $44 million into the company’s underfunded pension plan.
Bain received $12 million on its $8 million initial investment and at least $4.5 million in consulting fees, according to a January report by Reuters.
Those facts have convinced Eiding to back Obama over Romney.
Obama “has taken on a Depression no tougher the Depression of the days with Franklin Delano Roosevelt and he’s handled it with courage. He’s handled it with fortitude, and he’s done it in the face of people who just don’t care about working people,” Eiding said.