How Mitt Romney's GOP foes are doing Obama's work for him

The Mitt Romney campaign will leave New Hampshire with new battle scars. It pains some Republicans to see their candidates going after one of their own, but it may not help Obama either.

Charles Dharapak/AP
Republican presidential candidate, former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney, campaigns on primary election day outside of a polling station at Webster School in Manchester, N.H., Tuesday.

By all appearances, Mitt Romney is heading into a comfortable double-digit victory in the New Hampshire Republican primary Tuesday.

But the final days of New Hampshire haven’t been pretty for the former governor of Massachusetts. Mr. Romney has faced a barrage of attacks over his 20 years as a venture capitalist at Bain Capital, which included handing out lots of pink slips to workers. Newt Gingrich and Rick Perry have both called Bain’s approach “looting.” The release of an unflattering movie trailer by a pro-Gingrich super PAC on Romney and Bain added to the onslaught.  

Romney did himself some damage, too, with an unfortunate choice of words at a campaign appearance Monday. “I like being able to fire people who provide services to me,” he said, referring to the ability to dismiss health-insurance providers. Jon Huntsman (and the Democrats) ran with the first part of that sentence – Romney likes to fire people! – forcing the ex-governor off message and into explanation mode. Another comment, about past worries he’d get a pink slip himself, also required followup.

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For President Obama, Romney’s rough patch may not be the biggest of blessings either. Team Obama had hoped to drop the Bain bomb on Romney after he had secured the nomination. But that may have been too much to hope for, given Bain is such a juicy target. Romney’s business experience, after all, is central to his pitch for the presidency. And with Romney’s primary opponents anxious to salvage their candidacies, attacking the front-runner is only natural.

Still, it pains some Republicans to see their candidates going after one of their own.

“I get what they’re trying to do, short term,” says Fergus Cullen, former chairman of the New Hampshire GOP, who is backing Mr. Huntsman. But “I am not happy hearing Republicans making the arguments that the Democrats will make in the general election.”

When the campaign moves on Wednesday to South Carolina, host of the next primary, the anti-Bain barrage will only get worse. Fueled by a $3.4 million budget, the pro-Gingrich super PAC Winning Our Future will release “When Mitt Romney Came to Town.”  The 27-minute documentary focuses on four families devastated by the restructuring of businesses by Bain, where Romney was CEO.

“I feel that is the man that destroyed us,” says one woman in the preview.

Texas Governor Perry, who skipped New Hampshire and is already campaigning in South Carolina, has been piling on over Bain – and using local examples to bring his point home. At an event Monday morning in Anderson, S.C., Perry accused Romney of laying off hundreds of workers at a photo album company and a steel mill as Bain took in $85 million in management fees.

“There is something inherently wrong when getting rich off failure and sticking it to someone else is how you do your business,” Perry said, according to Politico.

The Romney campaign has fired back against Perry and Mr. Gingrich, accusing them of running against free enterprise.

“It is no surprise that, having spent nearly half a century in government between them, Speaker Gingrich and Governor Perry have resorted to desperate attacks on a subject they don’t understand,” Romney spokeswoman Andrea Saul said in a statement.

The conservative magazine National Review has also come to Romney’s defense, arguing that he helped turn around a number of failing businesses.

“Mitt Romney ran a firm that invested in struggling businesses, made money, and never asked for a bailout – and Romney’s rivals apparently expect Republican voters to regard that as a liability,” the National Review editorial said.

Romney himself has stated that he was responsible for the net creation of more than 100,000 jobs, after factoring in jobs that were lost. News reports have looked into Romney’s numbers, and suggested he come out with a more complete accounting of his entire record at Bain.

But one point is clear: The Bain moment has arrived, and the Democrats aren’t holding back. The pro-Obama super PAC likens him to Gordon Gekko, the fictional “greed is good” main character in the two “Wall Street” movies. (And for what it’s worth, some tea party activists who don’t like Romney use the same analogy.) On Tuesday, the Democratic National Committee released a video called “You’re Fired,” pounding on Romney over job losses.

In the end, having to address his record at Bain now versus during the general election campaign – if he’s the nominee – may work to Romney’s advantage. Most voters still aren’t paying close attention to the campaign, and getting through the Bain crucible early may inoculate him. Or, as some Republicans fear, the populist barrage may just deliver him to the general election campaign bloodied and weakened.

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