WASHINGTON/NEW YORK - President Barack Obama's campaign released a video on Monday calling Mitt Romney's private equity firm a job-killing "vampire" that ran a steel mill into the ground, signaling a new effort to carve into Romney's image of corporate success.
The Obama campaign's six-minute video - a shorter version of which will air on TV stations in the key states of Iowa, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Virginia and Colorado - came as the president's team sought to draw dramatic contrasts between Obama and Romney, the presumed Republican nominee for president.
Two days after Romney tried to woo conservative evangelical Christians in a commencement speech at Jerry Falwell's Liberty University in Lynchburg, Virginia, Obama spoke at Barnard College, a women's school in New York City, and urged the graduates to fight for a more equitable and tolerant nation.
"Fight not just for a seat at the table," Obama said, noting that women now make up nearly half the work force and have moved into leadership positions in many companies. "Fight for a seat at the head of the table."
Later, the Democratic president attended two fundraisers in New York, including one with supporters from the gay community, co-hosted by openly gay singer Ricky Martin.
The fundraiser was held less than a week after Obama announced that he supported same-sex marriages, a move that thrilled the gay and lesbian community but may not play as well with independent voters whose support will be crucial for Obama in the Nov. 6 election.
"We have never gone wrong when we expanded rights and responsibilities to everybody. That doesn't weaken families, that strengthens families," Obama said to applause.
Drawing further applause, Obama also hinted at pushing for a repeal of the Defense of Marriage Act -- the 1996 law barring federal recognition of same-sex marriage.
"So everything we do -- from Wall Street reform, making sure that banks aren't taking risks with other people's money that taxpayers may have to end up bailing out later, to repealing DOMA...all of these things are designed to make sure that we're restoring middle-class security," he said.
The Obama administration has declined to defend DOMA in court.
Republican leaders have vowed to use Obama's support for gay marriage - which led Newsweek magazine to dub him "the first gay president" - against him as they try to attract support from independents and churchgoers who oppose gay marriage.
During his speech on Saturday, Romney emphasized his view that marriage "is a relationship between one man and one woman."
WORKERS 'LEFT HOLDING THE BAG'
Obama and Romney are locked in a close race. A New York Times/CBS News poll released showed Romney with a 46 percent to 43 percent edge. The nationwide telephone survey was within the margin of error of plus or minus 4 percentage points. The two were tied in a Times/CBS News survey a month ago at 46 percent.
The tone for Monday was set by the Obama campaign's ad, which showed that he will seek to undermine Romney's candidacy by attacking the Republican's justification for running: his experience as a turn-around specialist in the corporate world.
The video released focuses on the demise of the GS Technologies mill in Kansas City, Missouri, which Romney's company Bain Capital bought in 1993. Bain's involvement with the mill was detailed in a Reuters special report in January.
The video argues that the brand of capitalism Romney practiced at Bain, a firm that bought and restructured companies, helped wealthy investors at the expense of workers.
Less than a decade after Bain's purchase, the mill was padlocked and 750 people lost their jobs. Bain profited on the deal, receiving $12 million on its $8 million initial investment and at least $4.5 million in consulting fees, according to the Reuters special report.
"Most Americans know that even in the real world, when you bankrupt a company you don't walk away with millions of dollars for yourself and your partners while workers are left holding the bag," Obama deputy campaign manager Stephanie Cutter said in a conference call with reporters.
"That's simply wrong, especially if they're using those lessons and values learned from that experience as the central premise of your campaign for president," Cutter said.
The Obama video was featured on a website it created, RomneyEconomics.com. It includes testimonials from workers affected by the plant's closure.
"Like a vampire, (Bain) came in and sucked the life out of us," former steel worker Jack Cobb says in the video.
Cutter said the campaign would highlight more companies with workers who were affected by Romney's business experience in the coming weeks. The move is part of a broader effort by Obama's advisers to define the former Massachusetts governor as an out-of-touch leader whose policies would hurt the middle class.
Obama's campaign made a point of saying it was not attacking the private equity industry, from which the campaign continues to solicit contributions. The president has taken flak from business executives for using harsh rhetoric against corporations that create jobs and keep the economy humming.
"This isn't about private equity," Cutter said. "Put simply: If Romney believes he can grow the economy for the long term, then he learned the wrong economic lessons and values from his private-sector experience."
Romney's campaign, which has tried to focus the narrative of the race on Obama's handling of the sluggish economy, accused Obama of trying to distract voters from his own economic record with its attacks on Romney's business background.
"We welcome the Obama campaign's attempt to pivot back to jobs and a discussion of their failed record," Romney campaign spokeswoman Andrea Saul said. "Mitt Romney helped create more jobs in his private-sector experience and more jobs as governor of Massachusetts than President Obama has for the entire nation."
Saul said Obama had many questions to answer about why his administration used money from a $787 billion stimulus package passed early in his tenure "to reward wealthy campaign donors with taxpayer money for bad ideas" such as Solyndra, a solar panel company that went bankrupt despite receiving $535 million in loan guarantees from the stimulus.
"If the Obama administration was less concerned about pleasing their wealthy donors and more concerned about creating jobs, America would be much better off," Saul said.
SEEKING FRIENDS ON WALL STREET
The Obama campaign's other fundraiser on Monday shed light on why it was reluctant to criticize private equity firms while attacking Romney.
Obama sought to rake in cash from Wall Street at a fundraiser at the luxury Manhattan apartment of Tony James, president of the Blackstone Group, the nation's largest private equity firm. The campaign declined to disclose a guest list.
Tickets were $35,800 each and a source familiar with the fundraiser said it would raise at least $1.5 million.
In his remarks to the small group, Obama cited the need for "basic rules of the road" on Wall Street.