Republican officials tracking the ad buy said the Obama team was airing the 2-minute spot only on Wednesday in the five states. The ad was expected to run during the evening news, directing viewers to an Obama website about Romney's economic record and a longer, 6-minute version of the ad appearing online.
As Obama's campaign was raising Romney's record in private equity, the president himself was heading to two fundraisers, including a $35,800-per-person dinner at the home of Hamilton "Tony" James, the president of Blackstone Group, the nation's largest private equity firm.
Romney's campaign, meanwhile, aggressively worked behind the scenes to counter the Obama campaign's Bain message.
It released a Web video about a successful steel company that Bain invested in called Steel Dynamics. The video shows steelworkers describing the company as the embodiment of the American dream, noting that the company grew from a workforce of 1,400 to more than 6,000. That video was not immediately planned for television.
Romney also dispatched Ed Gillespie, a senior campaign strategist, to a conference call with conservative bloggers on Monday to respond to the Obama ad. The campaign planned to frame the attacks on Romney's record at Bain as an "attack on free enterprise," and to cast the auto bailout as an example of private equity at work.
Romney advisers predicted the attacks on the presumptive Republican nominee's record at Bain would backfire because most voters understand that some business ventures succeed while others fail.
"This is someone who understand how the economy works, and I think most Americans also understand that there's never guaranteed success," Gillespie said.
Earlier this year, Romney previewed his counterattack, saying of Obama: "He's now been a venture capitalist at Solyndra, Fisker, Tesla; and he's been a private equity guy at General Motors and Chrysler. So I'll be talking about his record when I'm facing him."
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.
The Obama 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 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 put $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.
Bain Capital said Monday that it invested more than $100 million into the steel company at a time when the industry "came under enormous pressure and nearly half of all U.S. steel companies went into bankruptcy."
Criticism of Romney's time at Bain emerged during his 1994 Senate race against Sen. Edward M. Kennedy, D-Mass., and flared this year during the GOP presidential primaries.
Republican Newt Gingrich called Romney's role in the private equity firm "exploitive" and "not defensible."
Democrats view the current period as an important time to define Romney's economic record for general election voters. The president's defenders say he can ill afford to allow Romney to present himself as a can-do Mr. Fix-It on the economy during the summer and into the fall.
"Romney is still a blank slate for this new audience. They haven't focused on the campaign the same way primary voters have," said Tad Devine, a Democratic strategist who produced the ads for Kennedy's campaign against Romney. "This information, as it's presented, I think is going to be pretty valid."