Steve Rattner sandbags the Obama campaign’s presentation of an anti-Bain ad

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On a conference call with reporters this morning, President Obama's re-election campaign described its new ad attacking Mitt Romney's business record as a reflection of the former governor's values, and not a broader attack on the private-equity industry.

The ad focuses on a steel mill in Kansas City that was shuttered after being purchased by Bain Capital, Romney's former firm, in a private-equity deal that required little up-front investment and eventually saddled the company with a sizable debt.

"No one is challenging Romney's right to run his business as he saw fit, and no one is questioning the private-equity industry as a whole," said deputy campaign manager Stephanie Cutter, who was joined on the call by a former employee at the steel mill and the workers' lead negotiator at the company. "That's not what this is about. This is about whether the lessons and values Romney drew from his time as a buyout specialist, what those values are, what they tell us about what type of president Romney would be, and whether the voters want that in the Oval Office."

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But it's not easy to delineate the "lessons and values" Romney will have learned from his days in private equity from the broader industry practices.

Obama's former car czar Steven Rattner, a former top Democratic bundler who made his money in private equity, complicated the campaign's message by attacking the ad in an appearance on "Morning Joe." Rattner called it "unfair."

Responding to a question about Rattner's comments, Cutter said, "I think what Rattner was talking about was that Bain was and continues to be a very prominent firm that does very well by its investors."

She referred reports to some examples, post on the Obama campaign's website, of what she said were instances in which Bain made decisions that were not in the interest of the health of the company involved or of long-term economic growth. 

"At the end of the day, Romney and his partners always won, and somebody else is always left holding the bag," she said. "And are those the values and are those the lessons we want in our next president?"