That roar you hear is the sound of Mitt Romney's opponents joining together to condemn his record at Bain Capital, a private equity firm. This is a dangerous predicament for Romney.
It's unusual for all of Romney's Republican competitors to come up with the same message at the same time, but they have,saying that he used predatory practices at Bain to make millions of dollars while firing workers and bankrupting companies. Romney is the front-runner for the Republican presidential nomination and his GOP rivals are doing everything they can to tear him down.
The Democrats are pushing the same theme. The Democratic National Committee released a web video Monday making fun of Romney's comment that he likes to "fire people."
While the DNC has a long-term strategy of depicting Romney as a heartless businessman, the Republican candidates have a more immediate goal--preventing Romney from winning his second consecutive GOP nominating contest in New Hampshire Tuesday after he eked out a victory in the Iowa caucuses last week.
Discrediting Romney's record at Bain could do him lasting harm, because it strikes at the heart of his central message--that he has direct experience creating jobs and knows what it takes to improve the economy. The issue could also damage Romney's claim that he can empathize with everyday Americans who are experiencing economic pain.
Romney's response to the attacks is a defense of the free-enterprise system. He says he used standard investment techniques at Bain and his critics don't understand the importance of risk-taking in building a strong economy.
But in the past 24 hours, Romney has struggled to explain his comments to business leaders. In Nashua, N.H., Monday, Romney said , "I like being able to fire people who provide services to me." He was talking about health-insurance companies who offer poor coverage or inadequate care. But his rivals in Tuesday's primary have seized on his words to argue that Romney only cares about the corporate bottom line, not helping everyday people. Former Utah Gov. Jon Huntsman had a telling response when he said, "Governor Romney enjoys firing people. I enjoy creating jobs."
Romney and his aides say his remarks were taken out of context. They are pushing back hard by arguing that there are always winners and losers in the economy, but Bain created more jobs than it terminated.
In the end, however, the Bain issue might have emerged too late to hurt Romney in New Hampshire. It will probably come back to haunt him in South Carolina, which holds the next GOP primary on Jan. 21 and for the remainder of the campaign.