â€œHis main calling card for why he thinks he should be president,â€ Obama declared, â€œis his business experience.â€
It was Obamaâ€™s most expansive argument yet against Romney, and the president delivered it from a world stage in his home town.
On the sidelines of an international summit, the Democratic incumbent attempted to dismantle his Republican rivalâ€™s business pedigree while declaring it an insufficient rationale to lead the nation. In so doing, Obama left no doubt that Romneyâ€™s business background as founder of Bain Capital, perceived by many as a political strength during a weak economy, would be a recurrent target of his campaign.
Romney responded swiftly, saying Obama was attacking the free-enterprise system. He made it clear that the issue would remain a point of contention for the remainder of the race.
Obama made the comments in response to a question about Newark, N.J., Mayor Cory Bookerâ€™s weekend criticism of the Obama campaignâ€™s attack on Romneyâ€™s private equity background. Booker, an Obama supporter, called exchanges by the campaigns over Bain â€œnauseatingâ€ and a distraction from issues that interest voters.
â€œThis is not a distraction,â€ Obama said pointedly at a news conference filled with international media that marked the end of a NATO gathering. â€œThis is what this campaign is going to be about.â€
Obama argued that the priority of private equity enterprises such as Bainâ€™s is â€œto maximize profits.â€
â€œAnd thatâ€™s not always going to be good for communities or businesses or workers,â€ he said.
Obamaâ€™s comments came as his campaign has been doubling down on Romneyâ€™s tenure at Bain, a private equity firm he helped found in 1984. In ads and in Web videos, the campaign has drawn attention to companies that Bain took over only to close them or let them fail, costing jobs and hurting communities. Obama also has dispatched Vice President Joe Biden to battleground states â€” and specifically economically struggling areas filled with white blue-collar voters â€” to assail Romney on the matter.
The president on Monday was careful not to criticize private equity or profit making in general. But by standing by the Bain criticism, Obama also risked feeding a story line that he is anti-business and eager to restrain and tax the private sector in pursuit of his vision of fairness.