Commentary Magazine


Topic: GST Steel

Sleazy Super PAC Ad’s Claim Debunked

The pro-Obama Priorities USA ad that blames Mitt Romney for the death of a steeelworker’s wife is even sleazier than it initially sounded. CNN reports that the wife of former GST Steel employee Joe Soptic had health insurance through her own job, despite the ad’s claim that she lost her insurance when her husband was laid off (video via HotAir):

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The pro-Obama Priorities USA ad that blames Mitt Romney for the death of a steeelworker’s wife is even sleazier than it initially sounded. CNN reports that the wife of former GST Steel employee Joe Soptic had health insurance through her own job, despite the ad’s claim that she lost her insurance when her husband was laid off (video via HotAir):

The Obama campaign and the White House has refused to condemn the ad, even as they’re benefiting from its dishonest smears. On “Morning Joe” today, Obama’s campaign adviser Robert Gibbs filibustered for an entire segment as he was pressed to respond to the ad:

“The message is a little over the top. Can’t you admit that?” [Joe] Scarborough asked.

“I don’t know the specifics of this person’s case,” Gibbs said.

“What specifics would you like to know?” Time magazine’s Mark Halperin asked. Gibbs said he didn’t know the specifics of the woman’s health care coverage. It’s been reported Soptic’s wife had health care through another employer.

Stephanie Cutter, Obama’s deputy campaign manager, also declined to condemn the Priorities ad, and used a question about it to shine a negative light on Romney’s business record.

“You do know that we don’t have anything to do with Priorities USA,” Cutter said on CNN’s “Starting Point.” “By law, we’re not allowed to coordinate with them, and by law, we don’t have anything to do with their ads. I don’t know the facts of when Joe’s wife got sick or when she died. But as I said before, I do know the facts of what Mitt Romney did with GS Steel. I do know the facts of how Joe lost his job and his health care. The entire company went bankrupt. But Mitt Romney walked away with a pretty hefty profit.”

The Obama campaign has been warning for months that this election will be influenced by sleazy, false ads outsourced to third-party groups. They were right — and they’re the ones who are doing it.

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Pro-Obama PAC’s Dishonest New Bain Ad

The Obama-supporting Priorities USA PAC has released anti-Bain ads before, but it’s reached a new level of dishonesty with this latest one. It features a former GST Steel worker blaming Mitt Romney for the loss of his job and health care, which he suggests led to his wife’s subsequent illness and death. Politico reports:

The commercial casts Mitt Romney’s business background in a severely negative light, but it’s not a typical slash-and-burn attack ad. Instead, it features former GST Steel employee Joe Soptic speaking to the camera about what happened when the plant where he worked shut down.

“I don’t think Mitt Romney understands what he’s done to people’s lives by closing the plant. I don’t think he realizes that people’s lives completely changed,” Soptic said. “When Mitt Romney and Bain closed the plant, I lost my health care and my family lost their health care. And a short time after that my wife became ill.”

He continues: “I don’t know how long she was sick and I think maybe she didn’t say anything because she knew that we couldn’t afford the insurance. And then one day she became ill and I took her up to the Jackson County Hospital and admitted her for pneumonia 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.”

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The Obama-supporting Priorities USA PAC has released anti-Bain ads before, but it’s reached a new level of dishonesty with this latest one. It features a former GST Steel worker blaming Mitt Romney for the loss of his job and health care, which he suggests led to his wife’s subsequent illness and death. Politico reports:

The commercial casts Mitt Romney’s business background in a severely negative light, but it’s not a typical slash-and-burn attack ad. Instead, it features former GST Steel employee Joe Soptic speaking to the camera about what happened when the plant where he worked shut down.

“I don’t think Mitt Romney understands what he’s done to people’s lives by closing the plant. I don’t think he realizes that people’s lives completely changed,” Soptic said. “When Mitt Romney and Bain closed the plant, I lost my health care and my family lost their health care. And a short time after that my wife became ill.”

He continues: “I don’t know how long she was sick and I think maybe she didn’t say anything because she knew that we couldn’t afford the insurance. And then one day she became ill and I took her up to the Jackson County Hospital and admitted her for pneumonia 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.”

The effort to link Romney to GST Steel’s collapse is fairly flimsy on its own, as the plant declared bankruptcy and shut down years after Romney left Bain. But as Politico’s Alexander Burns reports, the Priorities USA ad also suggests that GST Steel worker Joe Soptic’s wife died shortly after the factory closed, as a result of losing their health insurance. That timeline is misleading, according to Burns:

In the case of this particularly jarring super PAC ad, it may also be relevant that Soptic’s wife died in 2006, years after the GST factory closed down.

A 2006 story in the Kansas City Star reported the death of Ranae Soptic, a former champion roller skater: “Soptic went to the hospital for pneumonia, but doctors found signs of very advanced cancer, and she died two weeks later on June 22.”

I asked Priorities USA strategist Bill Burton to explain the connection between Romney, Bain and a cancer fatality that happened near the end of Romney’s tenure as governor of Massachusetts. The lapse in time between the plant closing and Soptic’s death doesn’t mean the ad is invalid, but it raises questions about the cause and effect relationship here.

The Washington Examiner also looked back at some of Soptic’s previous media appearances, and argues that details in his story have changed:

Why is Soptic upset? Primarily, its because his pension was cut. In this interview, Soptic clarified that his 401k was not affected but he lost $400 a month from his pension.

But in a January 2012 Reuters story, Soptic reportedly said that he only lost $283 per month from his pension.

Soptic isn’t a figure the GOP will have an easy time responding to, because his story is deeply personal and sad. But Priorities USA deserves all the criticism it’s getting for exploiting this story to launch a misleading attack on Romney. To insinuate that Romney was responsible for the death of Soptic’s wife seven years after he left Bain and five years after GST Steel shut its doors is a terrible slander, even by Priority USA’s usual standards.

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Attacks Begin on Romney’s Bain Record

The Obama campaign is starting to roll out its attacks on Mitt Romney’s record at Bain Capital, including the predictable emotional testimony from workers who were laid off by companies Bain was trying to save from collapse. The campaign’s newest ad is powerful, though it’s already old news if you followed Newt Gingrich’s nearly identical attacks on Romney during the primaries.

But while Romney seemed blindsided by Gingrich’s (unsuccessful) anti-Bain assault, he’s clearly ready for this attack line from Obama. There are already doubts being raised about the facts in the ad, which implies that Romney was at Bain when GST Steel went under. But as the Christian Science Monitor reports, he had already left the company:

Plus, the ad elides some facts: Romney left Bain shortly after it acquired GST Steel, though he continued to receive profits from Bain payouts. He wasn’t around when GST went under. Also, it was an era when cheap foreign imports were hitting U.S. steel firms hard, in general. It’s not clear whether GST would have survived in any case.

And some conservatives say the Obama team rolled out this line of attack too early. It gives the Romney camp plenty of time to respond prior to November.

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The Obama campaign is starting to roll out its attacks on Mitt Romney’s record at Bain Capital, including the predictable emotional testimony from workers who were laid off by companies Bain was trying to save from collapse. The campaign’s newest ad is powerful, though it’s already old news if you followed Newt Gingrich’s nearly identical attacks on Romney during the primaries.

But while Romney seemed blindsided by Gingrich’s (unsuccessful) anti-Bain assault, he’s clearly ready for this attack line from Obama. There are already doubts being raised about the facts in the ad, which implies that Romney was at Bain when GST Steel went under. But as the Christian Science Monitor reports, he had already left the company:

Plus, the ad elides some facts: Romney left Bain shortly after it acquired GST Steel, though he continued to receive profits from Bain payouts. He wasn’t around when GST went under. Also, it was an era when cheap foreign imports were hitting U.S. steel firms hard, in general. It’s not clear whether GST would have survived in any case.

And some conservatives say the Obama team rolled out this line of attack too early. It gives the Romney camp plenty of time to respond prior to November.

The Romney campaign also has the advantage of a good counter-argument against Obama, who, as it so happens, also ordered GM and Chrysler to close thousands of dealerships during the auto bailout. Jim Geraghty writes that the Obama campaign may have a hard time pushing back on this:

I’m sure Obama fans will insist, “but the layoffs under our guy are completely different!” They’ll insist that in order to preserve the entire institution during a time when its continued operation was jeopardized, it was necessary to lay off certain branches and employees… which is, of course, precisely what Bain Capital was doing, or at least what the management of Bain Capital believed it was doing.

The line between heartless, cruel sacrifices of hardworking Americans to corporate greed and necessary sacrifices to ensure continued viability of a company in a competitive market is often in the eye of the beholder.

This could be why the Obama campaign is rolling out the Bain attack so early. They probably realize that Romney has a pretty strong counterattack, and know the anti-Bain argument will only get weaker as the election season progresses and Romney becomes more of a known entity. Right now, Obama hopes he can put that “Romney is a callous rich guy” image in the minds of voters before Romney is able to define himself to the public.

But this was also supposed to be one of Obama’s strongest lines of attack against Romney. The fact that Obama’s playing this card so early in the election, when many voters aren’t even paying attention yet, doesn’t seem to bode well for his campaign. He’s been able to successfully dominate the news cycle with one distraction issue after another, but how many more tricks does he have until that bag is empty?

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