VIRGINIA — As part of his closing pitch to voters here in Virginia, Mitt Romney went hog wild.
It was pork barrel politics of a different sort as the Romney campaign late last week crafted an online ad that lays the September closing of a Richmond barbecue chain, Bill’s Barbecue, at the feet of President Obama. Romney also visited with chain owner—and Republican backer—Rhoda Elliott at one of the former Bill’s locations, and then used the closing as a talking point at another campaign stop in the state. Here’s the ad:
The spot drew some national attention, but it was most interesting—and offered some welcome late-campaign fun—to watch the local press coverage. That’s where you could learn that the ad got some pushback from some unlikely sources: former customers of Bill’s Barbecue and Richmond residents in general.
The Richmond Times Dispatch jumped on the local response to the story, amplifying reader feedback. Political reporter Wesley Hester noted in a Friday story that the paper’s website and Facebook page attracted more than 120 comments on the ad, “the vast majority” which “scoffed at the idea that the president was to blame for the failure of the business.” Separate Times-Dispatch posts gathered reader comments and tweets about the ad.
Much of the feedback was obviously partisan, with a few Romney backers sprinkled among Obama supporters, but it was an entertaining mix. A sampling from the Times-Dispatch’s collection:
I’m pretty sure Buzz & Ned’s delicious BBQ is the reason Bill’s closed, not the President. Republicans don’t like free markets, apparently.. - @msager
Obama created Sandy, stole Donald Trump’s hair, and now we’re told he’s the reason Bill’s Barbecue closed…oh —huh? Lol - @simplyTricie
Bill’s Barbecue was terrible. Romney, aka Mr. Private Sector, must not realize that bad food is bad business. http://t.co/Aq54rG0K - @reillymoore
Bill’s BBQ in Richmond,VA closed it’s doors bc of Pres Obama & his policies. I cried watching this. youtu.be/NlFHrLeeJIU - @PoliticsBlonde
The day they started serving crappy chocolate pie was the day they died. - @flyingmeerkat
Other than the curated material, the Times-Dispatch’s main story runs through the talking points Romney picked up from Elliott, the chain’s owner—taxes, regulation, health care costs, the faltering economy. This material goes unchallenged for most of the piece, except for some Obama campaign boilerplate, until this bit at the end:
The owner of Buz and Ned’s Real Barbecue, which competed with Bill’s outlets on both sides of its Boulevard location, said in an interview Thursday that his restaurant thrived at the height of the recession because of assistance from the federal government. Buz Grossberg said his firm opened a second location in Henrico County with a $1.3 million loan from the U.S. Small Business Administration.
The new branch would “not be possible without the contribution of our federal government,” said Grossberg, who has helped organize fundraising events for U.S. Senate candidate Timothy M. Kaine over the Democrat’s 11-year career in statewide politics.
“It was an even better deal than normal,” Grossberg said of the loan.
Grossberg is hardly objective, but it was an interesting bit of counter-narrative about Obama’s record on small business.
The article could have been stronger, though, by directly scrutinizing those messages—especially the ones that hang on specific policies—rather than balancing them. For example, was Bill’s rising health care tab actually attributable to Obamacare? You wouldn’t know it from most political rhetoric, but the reform law exempts many small businesses from the employer mandate and subsidizes others. (CJR’s Trudy Lieberman has written about how small-business groups use media to spread an anti-Obamacare message.)