Obama, Romney Campaigns Trade Steel Ads

Competing versions of Mitt Romney's Bain Capital are shown to voters

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The American worker is center stage in the 2012 presidential race, as both campaigns Monday tried to portray opposing images of Mitt Romney's private sector business experience.

Mitt Romney's presidential campaign released a web advertisement on Monday touting the role Romney's old private equity firm Bain Capital had in helping fund a struggling steel company. The warm and fuzzy ad was distributed after the Romney campaign was knocked on their heels by a documentary-style web and television advertisement, also launched Monday, by the Obama campaign.

That ad depicted Romney favoring personal profits over worker well-being by highlighting Bain's role in a failed steel company whose workers were laid off and had their pensions and health plans reduced while Bain profited.

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The anti-Romney ad that will be aired in the battleground states of Iowa, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Colorado and Virginia runs two minutes, with the extended online version lasting six minutes. It chronicles the trials of GST Steel, a Kansas City company, which was forced into bankruptcy following a takeover by Bain and features former workers complaining about the resulting management decisions.

"Private equity is not per se bad but what Bain Capital did was not capitalism, it was bad management. The decision-makers were governed by a different set of rules than the rest of us played by," said David Foster, regional director for the United Steelworkers and lead negotiator for workers at GST Steel in the advertisement.

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In the Romney campaign's counter-advertisement, workers at Steel Dynamics, Inc. issue heaping praise and gratitude to Bain for infusing capital into their company.

A narrator intones, "American workers in a small town, proving that anything is possible in America."

"One of the hardest things to do is move up a socio-economic status in a generation," says one man. "Because of this company I am able to do that with my family."

The dueling ads prove just how critical middle- and working-class voters are to the election, which is expected to be close and hinge on how voters' feel about the economy.

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The Obama campaign hopes to tag Romney as some of his GOP rivals did during the primary – as a wealthy businessman out-of-touch with common pocketbook concerns. Romney's team, meanwhile, is trying to depict the former Massachusetts governor as someone who used his business career to turnaround failing companies that in turn saved jobs.

The tit-for-tat between the two sides will likely last up until Election Day.

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  • Rebekah Metzler is a political writer for U.S. News & World Report. You can contact her at rmetzler@usnews.com or follow her on Twitter.