Gov. Rick Perry was among the Republican candidates for president to intensify criticism of front-runner Mitt Romney and his work with a profitable Boston venture capital firm.
Perry cited South Carolina companies that Bain Capital bought and downsized, and he practically dared Romney to ask for voters' support there in the name of easing economic pain.
"If you're a victim of Bain Capital's downsizing, it's the ultimate insult for Mitt Romney to come to South Carolina to tell you he feels your pain. Because he caused it," he said. "I have no doubt that Mitt Romney was worried about pink slips -- whether he'd have enough of them to hand out."
The governor cited Holson Burns Group Inc. of Gaffney, S.C., where he said 150 workers who made photo albums lost their jobs.
"They looted that company," Perry said, referring to Bain Capital.
Romney told reporters Monday in New Hampshire that attacks from Perry and former House Speaker Newt Gingrich surprised him.
"Free enterprise will be on trial" in the 2012 election, Romney said.
"I thought it was going to come from the president, from the Democrats, from 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," he said.
Like his Republican rivals, Perry also criticized Romney's remark Monday in which he said: "I like being able to fire people who provide services to me."
Perry posted a ringtone to his campaign website that consisted of Romney saying, "I like being able to fire people," over and over. The ringtone was apparently removed as of late Monday night.
Romney had said he wants individuals to be able to choose among different health insurance policies as they seek coverage.
"That means the insurance company will have an incentive to keep you healthy. It also means if you don't like what they do, you can fire them," he said in New Hampshire.
"I like being able to fire people who provide services to me. If someone doesn't give me the good service I need, I'm going to go get somebody else to provide that service to me," he added.
In a recent debate, Romney repeated his claim that the Bain-run companies netted a total increase of 100,000 jobs.
Studies by The Associated Press and other news organizations conclude that the claim doesn't withstand scrutiny. That alone, however, hardly suggests Romney was an unsuccessful business executive. He became wealthy, a hero to many entrepreneurs, and the leader of the much-praised 2002 Winter Olympics.
The 100,000 jobs claim comes from activities at only three companies, all of them successes: Staples, Domino's and Sports Authority. However, it counts many jobs that were created after Romney left Bain in 1999. And it ignores job losses at many other firms that Bain invested in or took over.
The Wall Street Journal, which examined 77 businesses that Bain invested in during Romney's tenure, concluded Monday that the record is mixed. Twenty-two percent of the companies closed down or filed for bankruptcy reorganization within eight years, "sometimes with substantial job losses," the Journal reported.
"Bain produced stellar returns for its investors," the paper reported. But 70 percent of the profits came from 10 deals.
A separate AP analysis found that at least 4,000 workers lost their jobs at 45 companies bought by Bain between 1984 and 1994, according to company reports, news releases and news coverage. The tally probably is higher, because it does not include other jobs lost in bankruptcies and other store and factory closings.
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