Of course, situational outrage - what some might call hypocrisy - is nothing new in politics. Those who are bashing private equity on the one hand are more than willing to rely on it to help save jobs in a swing state, and the president has raised campaign money from private-equity titans (though less of it than he did in 2008).
U.S. Rep. Bob Brady, also the city's Democratic Party chairman; Mayor Nutter; officials in the Obama White House; and union leaders worked in harness with Gov. Corbett, a Republican, on the deal.
Nutter was full of praise for the Carlyle partners, a contrast to comments the mayor had made about Bain in his increasing role as one of the Obama campaign's top national surrogates. For instance, Nutter called Romney a "serial outsourcer of jobs" on a conference call with reporters June 27, saying that Romney and Bain had "profited from shipping American jobs overseas."
The varying treatment of private equity illustrates the complexity of the real-life economy, where things are not as simple as the black-hat/white-hat dialectics of the political ad makers.
Nutter said his criticism was strictly limited to the actions of Bain Capital when Romney was in charge of the firm, and not a broad indictment of the private-equity industry.
"You're not going to find a quote from me or a statement saying that private-equity firms are bad," Nutter said in an interview. "The conversations have been about one firm because of its direct connection and relationship with Mitt Romney. Mitt Romney [has] said, 'I'm qualified to be president because I ran this firm, I made money, I know how to make money.' "
Nutter added, "I have not criticized private-equity firms in a blanket fashion. That would be irresponsible."
Indeed, the Carlyle firm has a reputation for taking a long-term approach to its deals rather than buying companies and gutting them for quick profit, said Leo Gerard, international president of the United Steelworkers.
"Not every private-equity firm is the same," Gerard said. "We've done several deals with Carlyle, and they've all been 'stick to it, make it work for the long haul,' not 'flip and spin.' "
The steelworkers represented workers at GST Steel, in Kansas City, and Ampad, a paper plant in Marion, Ind., two deals the Obama campaign has highlighted as examples of Bain's supposed rapaciousness.
Bain "destroyed those jobs," Gerard said. "They sucked the capital out of it. This is not what this [Sunoco deal] is about."
Overall, employment shrinks slightly at companies acquired by private-equity groups, according to a 2011 study by the nonpartisan National Bureau of Economic Research. Private equity is also credited with making companies and the economy more efficient, what experts call the "creative-destruction" aspect of the free market. And investors reaping big returns from private-equity firms aren't just fat cats; they include college endowments and workers' pension funds.
Like Nutter, Obama has been careful to say he is not condemning the whole private-equity industry, even as he derides Romney's record at Bain. The president has even taken pains to say that his Republican opponent should be "proud" of his personal wealth. The issue, Obama has said, is whether the values and experiences of a private-equity dealmaker translate to the Oval Office.
Some prominent Democrats, including former Gov. Ed Rendell, have blasted Obama for focusing on Bain. Newark Mayor Corey Booker even said that he was "nauseated" by the attacks.
But don't look for Obama to stop blasting away at Romney's private-equity career, because there are signs it is starting to pay political dividends. Pollsters in both parties say they hear in focus groups of voters that the anti-Bain attacks and other efforts to paint Romney as an out-of-touch plutocrat are resonating.
In the latest NBC News/Wall Street Journal poll, 33 percent of voters in 12 battleground states said hearing or reading details of Romney's history at Bain had made them view him more negatively, compared to 18 percent who said it made them think better of him.
A Quinnipiac University poll last month in Ohio gave Obama a 47-percent-to-42 percent edge on the question, Who would do the best job of handling the economy? The poll did not ask about Bain specifically, but the state has been saturated with anti-Romney ads featuring the issue.
Whether such "class-warfare" themes are the reason Obama holds narrow leads in most recent swing-state polls is uncertain, said Peter A. Brown, assistant director of the Quinnipiac University Polling Institute.
"The Obama people clearly think it's working - they keep spending zillions on the ads," Brown said. "The question is, are there voters the class-warfare message will work on who aren't already supporting the president? That's the key to everything."
Contact Thomas Fitzgerald
at 215-854-2718 or email@example.com, or follow on Twitter @tomfitzgerald. Read his blog, "The Big Tent," at www.philly.com/bigtent.