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'Anti-business' label could hurt Obama's chances

By Alex Castellanos, CNN Contributor
updated 10:21 PM EDT, Fri June 8, 2012
Alex Castellanos says that President Obama is vulnerable to criticism that his administration is anti-business.
Alex Castellanos says that President Obama is vulnerable to criticism that his administration is anti-business.
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Democrats are citing some polling data to argue attacks on Bain are hurting Romney
  • Alex Castellanos says there is much in the polls to show opportunity for Romney
  • He says voters are inclined to accept the view that Obama's policies are anti-business
  • Castellanos: Voters see Romney as the bigger agent of change in Washington

Editor's note: Alex Castellanos, a CNN contributor, is a Republican consultant and the co-founder of Purple Strategies. Follow him on Twitter: @alexcast

(CNN) -- Are the attacks on Mitt Romney's career in private equity at Bain Capital working? A few blue people (Democrats, not the savage Scots in "Braveheart") are interpreting our recent Purple Strategies poll of 12 battleground states to make that case.

They are understandably eager for validation of their strategy: Since they began their assault on Romney's private-sector experience, the race has tightened. One Democrat told the Huffington Post, "What are they suggesting, that Dems spend less time focusing on Mitt Romney's failed record at Bain? Give me a break."

Surveys, however, are like sheet music. Different folks can sit down at the piano and play the same notes vastly different ways, based on their experience, insight and abilities.

Alex Castellanos
Alex Castellanos

I'll let my blue partners at Purple and others offer their interpretation, but here are a few ways to play this music from my red piano bench.

In the business of politics, there is a term for would-be operatives who pluck one number from a survey and build a campaign on it. They are called "top-line strategists." It is not a term of endearment. They embrace a shiny, glittering number as the beginning and end of truth. But one dot does not make a line. One note does not a symphony play.

For example, Ohio is a working-class state. Not unlike Wisconsin, it is full of voters that my friend, the insightful GOP consultant Brad Todd, identifies as "guys with their names on their shirt pockets." In the current economic and political environment, you might expect a state like this to think private equity hurts workers more than it creates growth and jobs. Sure enough, 33% of Ohio voters tell the Purple Poll that private equity helps the economy while 49% report it hurts workers. But the story does not end there.

At the same time, in Ohio, with the same voters who hold this view, Romney has moved from 5 percentage points down to 3 points ahead. This occurred, remarkably, in the face of a monthlong, $25 million assault in the swing states on Bain Capital and private equity by President Barack Obama's campaign.

What does that tell us?

It tells us that agreement without relevance is not determinative. The real narrative of this election is different from the story the Obama campaign is telling.

Opinion: Focus group shows Bain image hurting Romney

In real English, voters fear what Obama is doing to the economy, attacking private-sector success, more than they worry about Romney's admitted record of great success and occasional failure in the private sector.

In fact, a friend recently sent me a question from an unpublished national survey, which he's allowed me to share here:

When asked, 45% of American voters agreed, "Mitt Romney can't be trusted with our economy because he worked in the private equity industry, which profits from downsizing companies." But 55% of voters agreed, "Attacking the entire private equity industry for the actions of one person who worked in the industry over 10 years ago is unfair, and it's a perfect example of the Obama administration's anti-business mindset."

Our nation is starved for jobs, growth and prosperity, yet Team Blue clings bitterly to a campaign religion that has already convinced 55% of the American people that their president is anti-business? No wonder Bill "The Budget Balancer" Clinton, whose flag read, "It's the economy, stupid," is wandering off the reservation.

What campaign themes are relevant? Independents in these decisive swing states seem to believe Mitt Romney "knows what it takes to create jobs," 45% Romney, 33% Obama. That seems to be even more important in Ohio, a state where 62% of voters say our country is on the wrong track, highest among the four key "Purple Predictor" states, including Florida, Colorado and Virginia.

Swing-state voters, who loathe Washington and today's divisive politics as much or more than other Americans, also seem to believe Romney would be the bigger agent of change in Washington, 38% Romney to 32% for Obama. Independents say Romney is the more powerful agent of political change, 37% Romney to 24% for the president.

Lastly, these voters would rather "switch" than fight to keep the blue leadership they have today: They tell us they see keeping Obama as a bigger risk to the country than switching to Mitt Romney. When we asked them if they were more seriously concerned about what Romney or Obama "would do to the country over the next four years," Obama was seen as a greater risk by +5% among all swing state voters and by +11% among independents.

Mitt Romney may be less passionate than Obama, but he is also less frightening. Voters fear the anti-business politician more than they fear the businessman.

For Obama, "Yes, we can," apparently, has become, "Oh no, he might." This Halloween, before the November vote, Obama may be the scarier mask.

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The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of Alex Castellanos.

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