In the presidential battle of 2012, Mitt Romney had a trump card: Solyndra. It was "great optics," as they call it in the political business. Though it's not clear at all that Romney's staff is in the political business with the way the opportunity was mishandled.
Barack Obama's staff knew the May 2010 image -- the optics -- of the president standing in front of a crowd at the now bankrupt Northern California solar company was a disaster. They knew the Republicans would use it to point out the failure of the stimulus program and use the factory visit as a springboard to an argument that the president's economic policies have not worked.
However, when Gov. Romney decided to throw down the card, he misplayed it.
The first mistake came in the timing. Romney was in town as part of a Northern California fundraising tour. When exactly his campaign decided to visit Solyndra is unclear, but news crews were caught flat-footed. Many politicos expected the big Solyndra show to come much later in the campaign.
To make the timing worse, Romney started talking at the exact moment former President George W. Bush began to speak in a White House portrait unveiling. The exact moment.
Cable channels flocked to cover Bush and Obama shaking hands in Washington. "President Obama Unveils Official Portraits of Former President Bush, Former First Lady Bush," trumpeted Fox News in bright letters.
The Romney speech went unnoticed.
"It's a question of why they would try to take attention away from George W. Bush," says NBC Bay Area political analyst Dr. Larry Gerston. "Or, they simply did not know."
The lack of news-cycle planning also meant the video of Romney was captured by a "pool camera," a single camera run by one news agency. The camera was placed across the street from Solyndra and the podium centered in front of the large white Solyndra sign. When the governor stepped in front of the cameras, he blocked the sign. The "optics" were ruined.
We've asked the Romney campaign to tell us more about the decision process behind the appearance.
We'll keep you updated.