The debate over Romney’s business record may be an early test of what is all but certain to become a general-election debate if the former Massachusetts governor wins the GOP nomination.
If the issue picks up steam before the Jan. 21 Republican primary here, it could indicate that Romney would have a stiff challenge ahead persuading voters that his business record uniquely qualifies him to remake a broken government. If Romney is able to beat back the matter, it could suggest that Democrats will have to find another line of attack.
Republican voters at campaign events for Romney and other candidates Thursday said they were unmoved by the arguments against Romney’s time at Bain, a venture capital company that several of Romney’s rivals have blamed for bankrupting companies and laying off thousands of workers. Most damning has been an ad campaign paid for by a group backing Newt Gingrich, featuring interviews with workers claiming to have been laid off by Bain.
“It’s outrageous,” said David Hull, 46, a Daniel Island Republican who attended a rally with Jon Huntsman Jr., the former Utah governor. “The corporate world is totally different from the political world. You have no idea what it takes to save some companies, reduce others. They have to make tough decisions. This is capitalism. We can’t save everybody’s job.”
At a stop along a street in downtown Summerville, S.C., voter Barbara Schimp, a supporter of Texas Gov. Rick Perry, shook Perry’s hand and urged him to “stick to your own story” and stop the attacks on Romney, which she offered, are “coming across as anti-business.”
“Its not anti-business,” replied Perry.
“It just comes across sounding like it,” Schimp said. “Stick to your story, sir, it’s a good story.”
On Wednesday, Perry called Romney a “vulture capitalist” — a phrase that he did not repeat on Thursday.
Romney’s rivals seemed to vacillate between continuing to criticize Romney over Bain and easing up in the face of growing pressure to do so. Gingrich, whose critiques have been the harshest of any, rarely mentioned Romney by name Thursday, sticking instead to a more general “big guy vs. little guy” theme.
Huntsman aimed his attack Thursday on a line Romney uttered Monday about firing people, rather than directly hitting him over Bain. “When you have a candidate who talks about enjoyment of firing people, that makes you pretty much unelectable,” he said.
Several Republican strategists said the verdict is still not in on how damaging the Bain narrative will be for Romney, whose wins in New Hampshire and Iowa earlier this month have cemented his position as the front-runner of the Republican field.