Bain Already Killed Mitt Romney Once. And I Was a Witness.

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I haven’t studied the details of Mitt Romney’s tenure at Bain & Co. And I’m no expert in political tactics; when I write about them, it’s usually to make a larger point about a politician.  My only credential for discussing whether Bain will hurt Romney in 2012 is that I lived in Massachusetts in 1994, when he was running for Senate against Ted Kennedy. I was just a kid covering night cops in Boston, paying virtually no attention to politics, but I do remember this: Bain KILLED Romney.

My basic recollection of that race is that for months and months, everyone said Kennedy was doomed. It was the year of the Republican revolution, and Teddy was the poster child for bloated liberalism; he had also played a humiliating role in his nephew’s rape trial a few years earlier. But then he started running ads of laid-off Indiana workers who said Bain and Romney had destroyed their jobs and shredded their dignity.

I still remember the way that woman said “IN-surance.” And suddenly the race was over. It wasn’t even close. And Kennedy never faced a serious challenge again.

When I mentioned this to my favorite Romney-watcher a few weeks ago—Swampland seems so lonely without you, David—he reminded me that Massachusetts isn’t America. But South Carolina isn’t America, either, and Bain attacks didn’t seem to hurt Newt Gingrich there. Put aside the questions about outsourcing and bailouts and SEC documents; Bain is a reminder that Mitt Romney was a CEO, a boss, a Wall Street suit, a rich guy who fires people. This was Mike Huckabee’s insight; Romney reminds people of the guy who laid them off. He could still beat Obama—Kennedy wasn’t presiding over 8 percent unemployment—but he’s going to have to figure out a way around his Bain problem.

As I said, I’m not an expert in political tactics, and it may not be particularly original to point out that Bain is toxic for Romney. But Bain is toxic for Romney, and the idea that Beltway reporters thought President Obama’s campaign should drop the issue because it hurt Cory Booker’s feelings is a reminder that the experts in political tactics are not really experts in political tactics either.