The plant recently became the star of President Barack Obama's re-election campaign. His first television ad attacking Romney was a two-minute spot featuring several former GST workings discussing how they lost their jobs, health care and much of their pensions after the company declared bankruptcy in 2001. (Romney left Bain in 1999 to run the Salt Lake City Olympics.) Bain made an estimated $12 million on its investment in GST before the company failed. (If you want the gritty details, see this brilliant Reuters piece from January.)
Thursday, the Democratic National Committee arranged for about two dozen former mill workers and their supporters to gather outside the closed plant and tell their stories of careers ended by Bain. The press conference wasn't a line-for-line remake of the Obama commercial, but it played like a live version of the ad.
Steve Morrow, former president of United Steelworkers Local 13, his hands shaking with nerves and his voice barely above a mumble, talked about how 750 steelworkers ended up out of work and with bleak futures.
"It's hard to find a job when you're 50 years old," he said. But what was worse, Morrow added, was the loss of insurance. "My wife had a preexisting condition. I couldn't get insurance on her."
Former Iowa governor Chet Culver, built like a linebacker, gave more nuanced political talking points, while union supporters waved signs reading: "Romney Economics: Buy a company, slash benefits, walk away with millions."
"Today is not about challenging Mitt Romney's right to run a business. And it's not about questioning the role of the private equity industry as a whole. We are here to ask legitimate questions about the values Romney lived by," he said.
"They put 750 hardworking, middle-class Missourians out of work. And they denied them severance, their health insurance and their full pensions, all of which they had earned and all which had been promised," he added.
The Romney campaign issued a response video to Obama's commercial. Romney focused on Steel Dynamics, a successful company in which Bain invested in Indiana. That might not have been wise. The video has drawn attention to a Los Angeles Times story from January that outlines Steel Dynamics' history of taking state tax breaks, which many on the Right rail against as corporate welfare.
Perhaps the best thing Romney can do at this point is shut up about steel altogether. The fire in the story appears to be dying, at least locally. Only three reporters bothered to trek out to the GST plant on Thursday.