When President Obama's re-election campaign began criticizing Mitt Romney's controversial private-sector background, the pushback was immediate. Republicans said it showed hostility towards capitalism; some high-profile Democrats balked; the many in the media predicted a public backlash.
The political establishment quickly formed a consensus: talking about Romney's history of leveraged buyouts and mass layoffs simply wouldn't work.
But there's sometimes a gap between what Americans believe and what they're told they're supposed to believe, and this might be just such a development. ABC's Amy Walters had an interesting report the other day:
"Bill Clinton and many in the chattering class may think that the attacks on Mitt Romney's record at Bain are a flop, but a group of women swing voters at two focus groups I watched last night suggest that they are working. While these women in Las Vegas and Richmond, Virginia still don't know much about Mitt Romney, a number of them volunteered that they were concerned about what they had heard about Romney's record from TV.
Said Rebecca from Richmond, "the whole thing where factories have shut down -- that concerns me."
Well, that's just a couple of focus groups. Maybe it was a fluke.
Or maybe there's something more to this: "The Obama campaign's jabs at Mitt Romney's record at Bain Capital, which have been widely panned up and down the Acela Corridor, could work quite well in Ohio, judging by the latest survey from the bipartisan Purple Poll. Across the 12 battleground states the monthly poll surveys, 47% of likely voters said they agreed with the statement that private equity firms 'care only about profits and short-term gains for investors. When they come in, workers get laid off, benefits disappear, and pensions are cut. Investors walk off with big returns, and working folks get stuck holding the bag.'"
This week's Daily Kos/SEIU State of the Nation poll conducted by PPP also found a significant number of voters less likely to vote for Romney in light of his Bain Capital background.
As Matt Yglesias put it this morning, "One of the most shocking moments of media out-of-touchness that I've seen in my lifetime was the spasm of pundits acting as if Barack Obama's criticisms of Mitt Romney's business record were likely to prompt some kind of backlash from the public."
If the Obama campaign's internal polls show similar trends, expect Bain criticisms to continue, whether the establishment likes it or not.