Mitt Romney's critics are taking aim at the central pillar of his presidential campaign—that he is an expert on the American economy and has an impressive record of creating jobs in the private sector.
For many months, Romney has argued that as a former venture capitalist he knows how the economy really works, and the businesses that his private equity company, Bain Capital, invested in "have now added over 100,000 jobs" to the national economy.
With the economy the number one issue for voters, Romney could have a significant advantage if the nation buys this rationale for his candidacy.
But if Romney's record as a job creator can be discredited, his candidacy will be seriously damaged, and questioning that record is now the central goal of his critics.
This morning, the Democratic National Committee released its first video ad attacking Romney's record at Bain. "There are numerous examples of what Mitt Romney really did at Bain, one from a Reuters story last week which detailed how Bain made tens of millions on a company it invested in in Kansas City," says a DNC spokesman. "How? By raising the pension fund, slashing promised health care benefits, laying off workers and bankrupting the company."
Also jumping on the issue yesterday was David Axelrod, President Obama's chief political strategist.
Referring to Romney's role as a partner at Bain, Axelrod told ABC News: "They closed down more than 1,000 plants, stores, and offices. They outsourced tens of thousands of jobs, and they took 12 companies to bankruptcy. And on those bankruptcies he and his partners made hundreds of millions of dollars. ... I don't think those are the values that people want to animate our economy. He's not a job creator. He is a corporate raider." [Who Will Be the Next GOP Candidate to Drop Out of the 2012 Race?]
Axelrod also said Romney "may be rooting for slips and falls" in the economy in order to gain a political advantage in his campaign, while President Obama is doing all he can to improve the situation.
Romney's Republican competitors are making similar points. "Winning Our Future," a political action committee that supports former House Speaker Newt Ginbrich, is preparing to run ads in South Carolina—which holds a primary later this month, condemning Romney as a predatory capitalist who made millions by cutting jobs at various companies that his company took over.
At a debate in New Hampshire sponsored by NBC News yesterday, Gingrich and former Sen. Rick Santorum of Pennsylvania led the way in trying to portray Romney as a weak conservative who is deceptive in describing his record on the economy and in criticizing his rivals.
At one point, Romney, the front-runner in New Hampshire and in national polls, said he isn't a career politician and isn't a Washington insider, as he said Santorum and Gingrich are. He argued that he didn't run for re-election in Massachusetts in 2006 because he has accomplished his objectives for the state and wanted to return to his business career.
But Gingrich said Romney actually began running for president shortly after leaving the governor's office.
"Can we drop a little bit of the pious baloney?" Gingrich told Romney. "Just level with the American people."
In response, Romney said, "This ain't beanbag. ...We're going to describe the differences between us."
At a New Hampshire debate sponsored by ABC News on Saturday, Gingrich took on Romney specifically over the Bain issue. He said Romney adopted "a Wall Street model where you can flip companies, you can go in and have leveraged buyouts, you can basically take out all the money, leaving behind the workers."
Romney replied that he was using tried-and-true free-market principles, and that under his leadership Bain created many more jobs than were lost.