Romney on Wednesday night regaled California donors with the story of Staples, one of the companies backed by the private equity firm he used to run. Bain Capital started by investing a few million dollars, Romney said, while Staples executives worked out of Spartan offices furnished with old Naugahyde chairs.
It looked a lot different, Romney said, than the glass-walled headquarters the green energy company Solyndra built and maintained with the help of federal loan guarantees before it went bankrupt last year.
"This was real people's money," Romney said of the Staples investment. "It wasn't taxpayers' money."
Romney planned a campaign appearance in northern California Thursday morning.
Obama's campaign released a web video Thursday highlighting local Massachusetts officials who criticized Romney for not making good on his promises to grow the state's economy. The state was 47th out of 50 in job growth during his tenure as governor, though the unemployment rate dropped.
"He cut programs essential to the middle class like manufacturing and education, while giving special breaks to the wealthiest," Obama spokesman Ben LaBolt said.
Top Obama strategist David Axelrod planned to appear Thursday in Boston, where Romney's campaign is headquartered, to criticize Romney's record as governor.
In a memo released Wednesday, Axelrod wrote, "Under Gov. Romney, the Massachusetts economy was not at the top or even in the middle, but close to the bottom of all the states."
Appearing Thursday morning on NBC's "Today" show, Axelrod promised the Obama campaign will focus closely on Romney's record as governor. He said Romney "offers himself as an economic guru and savior," but the facts don't support that.
Axelrod denied that Obama, who campaigned four years ago on a theme of hope and opportunity, is merely trying to lengthen his hold on the White House. "I don't think what he's interested in is staying in power," Axelrod said. For months, Obama and his allies have signaled plans to target Romney's Massachusetts record, with advisers noting that the state's economy lagged in job creation and saw an increase in debt while he was governor. The critique builds upon a line of attack this month of Romney's record at Bain Capital, which Obama's team contends led to job losses and bankrupt companies even while Bain profited.
"Whether companies succeeded or failed, Romney Economics netted huge profits for him and his investors, but sometimes proved devastating for the middle-class workers whose jobs, benefits and pensions were put at risk," Axelrod wrote.
Republicans contend that Obama's critique of the Bain record will backfire because it will give voters the impression that he is anti-business.
Romney's campaign has signaled it will ramp up focus on Solyndra and other green energy companies that received taxpayer help but struggled to perform. Solyndra received $535 million in loan guarantees from the Energy Department in 2009, and Obama spoke at the company's Fremont, Calif., headquarters in May 2010, saying the company represented America's energy future.
In August 2011, the company went bankrupt, laying off 1,100 workers and shuttering its offices.
Solyndra's woes are an example of "what happens when the government puts hundreds of millions of dollars into an enterprise," Romney said, telling supporters that the government money actually discouraged solar energy because it made other entrepreneurs less likely to try to enter the market.
The Republican Party posted a web video Thursday criticizing the Obama administration's investment in Solyndra. "So, President Obama ignored many warnings and made risky bets with taxpayer dollars only to see more people lose their jobs, health care and pensions," an announcer says in the video.
Republicans say Obama essentially played the role of venture capitalist by investing government money in green energy companies. And Romney said Obama hasn't done well in that role.
"He invests in something like Solyndra and puts in half a billion in a business like that, and I look and think, `Gosh, when we started Staples, the office superstore, I think collectively we put in a few million dollars.' And then when it had a little success, we put in more," Romney told California donors.