“Governor Romney enjoys firing people; I enjoy creating jobs,” former Utah governor Jon Huntsman, who polls suggest is enjoying a late surge here, told reporters in Concord. “It may be that he’s slightly out of touch with the economic reality playing out in America right now, and that’s a dangerous place to be.”
Former House speaker Newt Gingrich (Ga.) went further, criticizing the type of business Romney engaged in. “Look, I’m for capitalism,” Gingrich said on NBC’s “Today” show. “But if somebody comes in, takes all the money out of your company and then leaves you bankrupt while they go off with millions, that’s not traditional capitalism.”
Instead of sprinting to the finish before Tuesday’s primary, which he is heavily favored to win, Romney spent his final day on the New Hampshire campaign trail explaining and defending his role as co-founder and chief executive of Bain Capital. The venture capital firm invested in start-ups such as Staples, an office supplies superstore, but also oversaw large-scale job losses through leveraged buyouts and restructuring.
“Free enterprise will be on trial,” Romney told reporters in Hudson. “I thought it was going to came from the president, from the Democrats on the left, but instead it’s coming from Speaker Gingrich and apparently others. And that’s just part of the process. I’m not worried about that. I’ve got broad shoulders.”
Romney came under siege in a debate Sunday over his work at Bain, and his comment Monday seemed to give his opponents an opening to try to turn his greatest asset — that he would be uniquely skilled at creating jobs and turning around the nation’s economy — into a liability. It also provided evidence for those trying to cast Romney as out of touch with the struggles of working Americans.
The attacks over Romney’s business background come as surveys showed his healthy lead in New Hampshire slipping. A Suffolk University-7 News tracking poll Monday showed him falling to 33 percent, from 43 percent last week, with four other candidates — Huntsman, Gingrich, Rep. Ron Paul (Tex.) and former senator Rick Santorum (Pa.) — in a volatile race for second.
The battle over Bain is certain to intensify as the race moves to South Carolina, where independent groups that support Romney and Gingrich are planning multimillion-dollar TV ad blitzes.
It’s a fight that Gingrich, in particular, is eager to have.