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Thu August 9, 2012
NPR Story

Obama Campaign Draws Ire Over Steelworker Ad

Originally published on Fri August 10, 2012 9:02 am

In a sea of nasty campaign ads this election season, one in particular seems to have struck a nerve. The work of Priorities USA Action, a pro-President Obama superPAC, has raised an outcry from Republicans, including those who pounced on the Romney campaign's rebuttal.

The minute-long ad features Joe Soptic, who was laid off when the steel mill he worked for in Kansas City, Mo., closed down. That steel mill had been acquired — and closed — by Bain Capital, the firm Mitt Romney headed. Soptic says in the ad that as a result of that, he and his wife lost their health insurance.

"A short time after that, my wife became ill," he says.

So he took her to the hospital, where she was diagnosed with pneumonia, and something else — stage-four cancer.

"There was nothing they could do for her, and she passed away in 22 days," he says. "I do not think Mitt Romney realizes what he's done to anyone. And furthermore, I do not think Mitt Romney is concerned."

Checking The Facts

Several independent fact-checking organizations have called the ad misleading or false. First of all, there's the definition of "short time." Soptic's wife actually died five years after the steel mill closed, and during at least part of that time, she had her own health insurance.

Second, by the time the plant closed, Romney was in Salt Lake City running the Olympics, though the Securities and Exchange Commission and other documents still listed him as Bain's CEO.

Bill Burton, the former Obama White House official who runs the superPAC responsible for the ad, says none of that matters.

"The point is, even if she had passed away the day after he was fired, I don't think that Mitt Romney would be culpable here. That's not what's at issue here," he says. "What's at issue is that thousands of people lost their jobs, lost benefits that were promised to them, and went on in these communities that were devastated by the fact that these plants closed down."

But others say the ad very much leaves the impression that Romney is, if not personally responsible for Mrs. Soptic's death, at least personally doesn't care that she died. The candidate himself responded to the controversy on a radio show hosted by former Education Secretary Bill Bennett.

"I thought [Obama] was a new kind of politician. But instead, his campaign and the people working with him have focused almost exclusively on personal attacks," Romney said, "and not at all on the issues of the day, which is how to get more jobs and more take-home pay. It's really disappointing."

'Goldmine For The Obamaites'

Meanwhile, Romney campaign spokeswoman Andrea Saul set off a whole separate controversy when she initially responded to the Soptic ad on Fox News.

"You know, if people had been in Massachusetts under Gov. Romney's health care plan, they would have had health care," she said.

Set aside the fact that Soptic was laid off five years before Romney signed the Massachusetts law requiring most people in that state to have insurance; that law is something most Republicans are not happy about. On his radio show, Rush Limbaugh called Saul's health care remarks "a potential goldmine for the Obamaites."

"Because they can say, 'Well, yeah, and Romneycare was the foundation for our plan,' " Limbaugh said.

Indeed, Redstate.com blogger Erick Erickson said of Saul's comment: "Consider the scab picked, the wound opened and the distrust trickling out again."

No one is backing down, though. Burton of Priorities USA Action says he's standing by his ad, despite challenges to its fairness and accuracy.

The Romney campaign, for its part, continues to maintain that the candidate still supports what he did in Massachusetts. But he just as firmly believes that the national version of that law is an inappropriate, one-size-fits-all measure that should be repealed.

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Transcript

AUDIE CORNISH, HOST:

In case you haven't noticed, the presidential race hasn't just gone negative, it's gone nasty. One recent controversial campaign ad is the work of a pro-President Obama's superPAC called Priorities USA Action. It features a former steelworker from Kansas City and, as NPR's Julie Rovner reports, the ad has caused several different kinds of outcry from Republicans.

JULIE ROVNER, BYLINE: The minute-long ad features a man named Joe Soptic. He was laid off when the steel mill he worked for closed down. That steel mill had been acquired and closed by the firm Mitt Romney headed, Bain Capital. Soptic says in the ad that, as a result of that, he and his wife lost their health insurance.

(SOUNDBITE OF POLITICAL AD)

JOE SOPTIC: A short time after that, my wife became ill.

ROVNER: So he took her to the hospital, where she was diagnosed with pneumonia and something else.

(SOUNDBITE OF POLITICAL AD)

SOPTIC: And that's when they found the cancer and, by then, it was stage four. It was - there was nothing they could do for her and she passed away in 22 days. I do not think Mitt Romney realizes what he's done to anyone and, furthermore, I do not think Mitt Romney is concerned.

ROVNER: Now, several independent fact-checking organizations have called the ad misleading or false. First of all, there's the definition of short time. Soptic's wife actually died five years after the steel mill closed and, during at least part of that time, she had her own health insurance.

Second, by the time the plant closed, Romney was in Salt Lake City running the Olympics, although SEC and other documents still listed him as Bain's CEO.

Bill Burton, the former Obama White House official who runs the superPAC responsible for the ad, says none of that matters.

BILL BURTON: The point is, even if she had passed away the day after he was fired, I don't think that Mitt Romney would be culpable here. That's not what's at issue. What's at issue is that thousands of people lost their jobs, lost benefits that were promised to them and, you know, went on in these communities that were devastated by the fact that these plants closed down.

ROVNER: But others say the ad very much leaves the impression that Romney is, if not personally responsible for Mrs. Soptic's death, at least personally doesn't care that she died. Here's how the candidate himself responded to the controversy on a radio show hosted by former Education Secretary Bill Bennett. Romney's discussing President Obama.

(SOUNDBITE OF RADIO SHOW, "BILL BENNETT'S MORNING IN AMERICA")

MITT ROMNEY: I thought he was a new kind of politician, but instead, his campaign and the people working with him have focused almost exclusively on personal attacks and not at all on the issues of the day, which is how to get more jobs and more take-home pay. It's really disappointing.

ROVNER: Meanwhile, Romney campaign spokeswoman Andrea Saul set off a whole separate controversy when she initially responded to the Soptic story with this comment on Fox News.

(SOUNDBITE OF FOX NEWS)

ANDREA SAUL: You know, if people had been in Massachusetts under Governor Romney's health care plan, they would have had health care.

ROVNER: Set aside the fact that Mr. Soptic was laid off five years before Governor Romney signed the Massachusetts law requiring most people in that state to have insurance. That law is something most Republicans are not happy about. Rush Limbaugh responded to Saul's remarks on his radio show like this.

(SOUNDBITE OF RADIO SHOW, "THE RUSH LIMBAUGH SHOW")

RUSH LIMBAUGH: That's the potential gold mine for the Obama-ites because they can say, well, yeah, and Romneycare was the foundation for our plan.

ROVNER: Indeed, RedState.com blogger Erick Erickson said of Saul's comment, quote, "consider the scab picked, the wound opened and the distrust trickling out again." No one is backing down, though. Bill Burton of Priorities USA Action says he's standing by his ad, despite challenges to its fairness and accuracy.

And the Romney campaign, for its part, continues to maintain that the candidate still supports what he did in Massachusetts, but he just as firmly believes that the national version of that law is an inappropriate one-size-fits-all measure that should be repealed.

Julie Rovner, NPR News, Washington.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

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