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Pivoting from Bain to the Bay State

In recent weeks, President Obama's re-election campaign has focused heavily on Mitt Romney's controversial private-sector background, shining a light on the mass layoffs the Republican orchestrated at his private-equity firm. As promised, Obama's team is shifting today to the follow-up message: Romney wasn't a good governor, either.

In this new, four-minute video, the president's campaign focuses heavily on Romney's awful jobs record in Massachusetts, the tax increases Romney imposed through increased fees, and the debt he accrued during his one term in office.

Just as importantly, though, it emphasizes an argument that often goes overlooked: when Romney ran for governor in 2002, he made a series of promises that are remarkably similar to those he's making now. Namely, Romney was prosperous in the private sector, so if voters give him a chance, he'll work wonders in the public sector. In hindsight, we now know he failed to produce once in office -- but he's making identical promises now, almost word for word. If his policies failed to create jobs at the state level, the video argues, why should voters believe him at the national level?

To my mind, this is a far more potent and salient message in 2012. The Bain Capital criticisms are accurate, and brutal to a real degree, but they're also complicated. Sure, Romney got rich by laying off American workers, but typical folks don't know what a private-equity firm is; they've never heard of Bain or the effected companies; and Romney uses the discussion itself to again argue that Obama is somehow hostile towards businesses.

It's infinitely easier to make this more straightforward case: Romney was an ineffective, unsuccessful, and unpopular governor who quit after one term, so don't make him president. He promised to use his business know-how to create jobs, but failed miserably -- Massachusetts' job creation record during Romney's term was "one of the worst in the country," ranking 47th out of 50 states.

Asked to defend Romney's economic record, even his most ardent supporters either can't think of a persuasive excuse, or they come up with an argument that makes Obama look better.

As a rule, Romney never talks about his gubernatorial record -- which itself is a bizarre tactic with no modern precedent among presidential candidates -- omitting references to Massachusetts from his speeches and ads. While Bush, Clinton, and Reagan each ran on their gubernatorial successes, Romney pretends his one term never happened.

Obama, however, will apparently have plenty to say on the subject.