Rivals force Mitt Romney to defend former life as an ‘asset stripper’

Richard Porritt
17 Jan 2012

White House hopeful Mitt Romney suffered a bruising debate before the South Carolina primary with his rivals attacking his history as an asset stripper.

This weekend’s vote will prove pivotal in the battle over which Republican will take on Barack Obama and candidates rounded on Mr Romney in a bid to throttle his runaway lead.

Newt Gingrich and Rick Perry led the assault against his record at Bain Capital, a private equity firm that bought companies to transform them into more competitive enterprises.

“There was a pattern in some companies . . . of leaving them with enormous debt and then within a year or two or three having them go broke,” Mr Gingrich said. “I think that’s something he ought to answer.”

Mr Perry referred to a steel mill in South Carolina where, he claimed, “Bain swept in, they picked that company over and a lot of people lost jobs there”. But Mr Romney insisted his and Bain’s intentions were always good, firing back: “I’m proud of my record.”

He said the steel industry was battered by unfair competition from China. As for other firms, he said: “Four of the companies that we invested in.. .ended up today having some 120,000 jobs.” But he acknowledged that “some of the businesses we invested in were not successful and lost jobs”.

The 64-year-old’s business past has so far been the only stumbling block in a campaign that has seen him polling well throughout.

After Jon Huntsman quit the race yesterday and backed Mr Romney, his opponents were forced to resort to hoping for a slip-up to force their way back into contention.

In an apparent bid to dig up some dirt, Mr Perry challenged Mr Romney to release his tax returns, saying he and Mr Gingrich planned to do so.

Mr Romney said he would but not until April: “I have nothing in them that suggests there’s any problem and I’m happy to do so. I sort of feel like we’re showing a lot of exposure at this point.”

But Mr Gingrich said he should disclose them immediately: “If there’s nothing there, why is he waiting till April?”

Former Speaker of the House Mr Gingrich said he would “reassess” his candidacy if he lost in South Carolina and acknowledged that a victory for Mr Romney would mean “an enormous advantage going forward”.

The field that remains after Saturday’s vote will next compete in Florida on January 31. The candidate will be named at a convention at the end of August.

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