While the presidential campaign has largely turned back to familiar economic themes since Republican hopeful Mitt Romney returned this week from his overseas trip, a television advertisement he launched in Ohio has raised some eyebrows.
The 30-second battleground advertisement, launched Wednesday, highlights a GM dealership owner who closed his business due to the company's forced restructuring under the Obama administration.
"I received a letter from General Motors. They were suspending my credit line. We had thirty-some employees that were out of work," says Al Zarzour of Lyndhurst, Ohio. "My wife and I were the last ones there. You know, it was like the dream that we worked for, and that we worked so hard for, was gone."
The ad harkens back to spots run by the Obama campaign which highlighted employees laid-off by Bain Capital, Romney's venture capital firm that restructured some of the companies it took over.
At the time, the Romney campaign and Republicans chastised the Democratic attacks as an assault on capitalism. Now, it appears the Romney campaign is trying to give Obama a taste of his own medicine—but some experts say it misses the mark.
"Mitt Romney is on pretty shaky ground criticizing the Obama administration about its policies towards the automobile industry—it's probably one of the few successes that we seen coming out of the last few years," says Paul Argenti, professor of corporate communication at Dartmouth College's Tuck School of Business. "I mean the automobile companies are more successful now than you would have anticipated, despite whatever government policy there was."
Argenti says it was obvious that Detroit's big three, which were all buried in red ink following the financial crisis, were overextended and needed to make structural changes in order to become profitable again.
"I don't care whether you are a Democrat or a Tea Party person, you have to understand that there are ramifications from doing bloated business for many, many years and restructuring is what happens when businesses don't think about the problems they might be creating ahead of time," he says. "That's not something that is peculiar to Mitt Romney or Obama or anyone else."
According to Automotive News, GM and Chrysler—which accepted Obama administration loans and were subject to the federally-directed restructuring—significantly shrunk their number of franchises, in GM's case there were 43 percent fewer franchises in 2011 than 2008. Chrysler franchises were reduced by about 20 percent. But Ford, which declined government assistance, also reduced its franchises by 39 percent, according to the data.
Argenti says the ad doesn't fit with the narrative Romney has been building for himself and certainly doesn't appeal to fiscal conservatives.
"It reinforces the notion that Mitt Romney is a flip-flopper of major proportions because this isn't something that he should be advertising about given his record and it also just creates sort of an unfair impression about how savvy companies are about their economic destiny," he says. "It's really bad all the way around."
The former Massachusetts governor has struggled with how to attack Obama on the auto bailout front, because in 2008 he very publicly denounced the move in a New York Times op-ed titled "Let Detroit Go Bankrupt." The largely successful turnaround has caused Romney to offer a variety of explanations about what he really meant, at one point claiming everything happened exactly as he suggested from the beginning. And voters in Michigan, Ohio and other neighboring states have benefited from improving economies thanks in part to the revival of the dominant industry—something that helps Obama's re-election chances.
The Romney campaign says not every ad is designed to move the needle on its own. In this case, they argue this Ohio spot is just one piece of the larger puzzle, part of a narrative crescendo heading into the fall.