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A pro-Obama super PAC, Priorities USA Action, unleashed what may be the most vicious and personal attack ad of the 2012 election cycle to date, effectively blaming Mitt Romney for the death of a laid-off steelworker's wife from cancer. The Romney campaign hit back hard, calling the charge "dishonest" and "contemptible." And the facts of the case undermine the shocking link (See update below).
The stark, minute-long commercial, entitled "Understands," features Joe Soptic, who lost his job and his health benefits after Romney's Bain Capital closed the GST Steel plant in Kansas City, Kan.—a move that has been the subject of pro-Obama ads before.
"I don't think Mitt Romney understands what he's done to people's lives by closing the plant," says Soptic, echoing recurring Democratic attacks on the former Massachusetts governor's tenure at Bain.
But here is the rest of the script:
"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. 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. I do not think Mitt Romney realizes what he's done to anyone, and furthermore I do not think Mitt Romney is concerned."
With 8.3 percent unemployment nationwide and the economy still sputtering three and a half years after Obama took office, the president's supporters have tried to paint Romney as a heartless practitioner of locust capitalism, someone who will fight for the very rich at the expense of everyone else. At a fundraiser in Connecticut on Monday, Obama himself dubbed his presumptive opponent "Romney Hood."
"President Obama's allies continue to use discredited and dishonest attacks in a contemptible effort to conceal the administration's deplorable economic record," said Romney spokesman Ryan Williams.
"After 42 months of unemployment above 8 percent, it is clear that the President and his campaign do not have a rationale for reelection. He focused on health care instead of the economy," Williams said by email. "He's done little to change the way Washington works."
"Mitt Romney has a Plan for a Stronger Middle Class that will jumpstart the economy and bring back millions of jobs," the spokesman said.
UPDATE 6:28 p.m.: The dramatic narrative in the ad did not withstand scrutiny. Politico reported that Soptic's wife died in 2006—years after the plant closed in 2001. And CNN reported that she had health care through her employer until she left in 2002 or 2003 because of an injury.
Priorities USA Action strategist Bill Burton, a former spokesman for the Obama White House, told Yahoo News that "the point of the ad is that Mitt Romney's business career left thousands of people in its wake."
"Lost jobs, lost health insurance and lost pension benefits. Those effects were felt for years after Romney forced companies out of business," Burton said by email. "He makes the argument that he was a job creator. The truth is, he was a profit creator—regardless of the impact his profit-making had on individuals."