Seeking to turn the image of laid-off workers back on President Obama, Mitt Romney's campaign launched an attack advertisement highlighting a California solar panel manufacturer that received more than $500 million in taxpayer funding before going bankrupt and laying off 1,100 workers.
The ad comes after the Obama campaign portrayed Romney as a callous corporate raider whose private-equity firm, Bain Capital, valued profits over workers.
The Romney ad features grainy video clips of Obama and ominous music as a narrator details a series of so-called green energy companies that received billions in taxpayer-backed loan guarantees that ultimately went bankrupt or failed. Worse than just the loss of tax dollars, the narrator says, is that according to a government watchdog report, many of the loan guarantees were offered to Democratic donors' "friends and family."
"Obama is giving taxpayer money to big donors and then watching them lose it," says the narrator. "Good for them; bad for us."
Leonard Steinhorn, public communications professor at American University, says the Romney spot aims to do more than just remind voters about the failed solar panel company Solyndra.
"With its sort of grainy video and its disturbing music is to cast doubt on this likable president to some extent," he says. "So not only are they literally countering the Bain ads by suggesting that the president's policies have resulted in jobs lost, but they're also suggesting that maybe he's not as straight-up a guy as you think he is."
Steinhorn says if the Romney ad can impart a seed of doubt that Obama has engaged in cronyism, it can help undermine his likability.
"They've been hitting Obama on the economy for a long time. I think this has a secondary purpose, which is to tarnish the shine a little bit," he says.
A similar ad attacking Obama on Solyndra and other publicly funded failures was launched by American Crossroads, a super PAC separate from Romney's campaign that is working to help elect Republicans.
The Obama campaign, meanwhile, is attempting to sully Romney as a weaker leader than 2008 GOP nominee John McCain for his failure to further distance himself from accusations that Obama was not born in the United States and therefore ineligible to be president.
When McCain was confronted by a supporter who called Obama an "Arab" during his failed presidential bid, McCain firmly corrected her. Romney meanwhile is planning a fundraiser with Donald Trump, who nearly jumped into the GOP presidential race fueled by his very frequent and public questioning of Obama's birthplace. And while Romney himself has said he believes Obama was born in Hawaii as his birth certificate states, detractors say Romney has failed to push back aggressively enough on Trump's charges.
The president's re-election campaign has launched its own ad juxtaposing clips of McCain with those of Trump and a top Romney adviser explaining that "a candidate cannot be responsible for everything their supporters say."
Steinhorn says there's more to the Obama campaign ad as well.
"That's designed to reinforce the idea that Mitt Romney doesn't have that sense of integrity that McCain had. You combine that with someone who will do anything to make money, i.e. the Bain ads, and you end up with the composite image of someone who seems driven slowly by his own personal gain," he says. "In the famous imagery of Charles Colson, would be willing to drive a tractor over his grandmother to get what he wants."
Rebekah Metzler is a political writer for U.S. News & World Report. You can contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org or follow her on Twitter.