With the near-universal outrage among conservatives over Newt Gingrich's attacks on Mitt Romney's record at Bain Capital, it would seem that the line is a sure loser during the Republican primary. But two internal Republican-conducted polls, shared on condition of anonymity, suggest otherwise. Also, Gingrich's double-digit surge in polls in South Carolina (largely fueled by his debate performance) shows that the Bain line wasn't toxic.
The surveys of 500 Iowa caucus goers and 500 South Carolina likely primary voters show that the attack could work well if it's framed the way Gingrich has: That Romney got rich while he fired the little guy. In Iowa, 61 percent of likely primary voters said it would make them less likely to vote for a candidate. In South Carolina, 63 percent said it would make primary voters less likely to vote for a candidate.
Sixty percent is a magic number in polling, a sign that your line of attack or defense has a chance in a campaign.
Yes, it's a leading push poll/message-testing question, one that's used to help sharpen campaign ads or one that consultants use to anticipate future attacks so they can defend their candidate. It doesn't mean the message is fair, accurate or complete. And, yes, this is just a snippet of a poll shared with us to push an agenda. Still, it's worth a note.
Also, the Iowa and South Carolina polls roped in Democrats and independents, who can participate in the early votes there. In Florida, only Republicans can vote in the Jan. 31 primary. But Florida is also a top job-loss state and Romney has yet to explain how his company profitted off of shuttering a Miami factory and laying off hundreds of workers years ago (story is here). And, in the end, struggling Republican Floridians are a lot more like struggling Democrats and independents than the coiffed, well-suited cognescenti of the Washington-New York chattering class.
It's unclear if the Bain attack has hurt or helped Gingrich in the long run. After the near-universal conservative condemnation of Gingrich, polls showed Romney started to consolidate Republican support. But Gingrich is new statistically tied with Romney, 32-31. Gingrich is gaining momentum. Romney isn't.
The line of attack isn't a silver bullet, either. Just ask Rick Perry who tried it out and then dropped it. and then dropped out yesterday. Also, the Bain criticism wasn't used in Iowa and it's relatively new. So Romney and his supporters have time to define Bain Capital the way they want before it's too late. They're doing it, advertising Bain's and Romney's success stories in South Carolina and Florida.
Campaigns are about selling products (candidates) and turning off voters to the other product on the shelf. Messaging -- that is, advertising -- matters. Romney is advertising full blast in Florida. The other candidates aren't.
But, considering that Romney goes off message with lines like "I like to be able to fire people," he might just be advertising his weakness as well.