Attacks on His Bain Record Are Making Romney Stronger, Not Killing Him

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Far from seriously denting his armor, his rivals' attacks on Romney as a 'vulture capitalist' are leading the rest of the party to rally around him.

Mitt Romney bain capital.jpg

Next up: The Bain Primary.

After Mitt Romney's historic sweep of Iowa and New Hampshire, the GOP presidential contest now centers on this question: Will establishment Republicans and Romney backers convince his rivals to stop criticizing the former Massachusetts governor's work at Bain Capital?

If they do, Romney likely clears the last hurdle to victory in South Carolina and lays claim to the GOP nomination by month's end. If they don't, former House Speaker Newt Gingrich and Texas Gov. Rick Perry could slow Romney's momentum and weaken the GOP's hand against President Barack Obama in the fall.

Look for the pro-Romney crowd to hit his rivals where it hurts: Their campaign bank accounts.

It's already happening.

A former fundraiser and key supporter of Perry told my National Journal/CBS News colleague Rebecca Kaplan that he is switching to the Romney camp because Perry crossed the line. Perry's attacks on Bain "are just inappropriate and not part of what the Republican Party should be standing for," said Barry Wynn, a former Republican state chairman in South Carolina and an investment-fund executive who had been helping Perry.

He added: "If you throw hatchets, you're going to get some in the back occasionally."

Perry had been hitting Romney hard as a "vulture capitalist" for his work at Bain, which he says tossed people out of jobs while turning big profits for Bain. By late Wednesday, he had quit using the line at his stops in South Carolina, according to Kaplan, who was traveling with the campaign.

Gingrich's team is weighing the risks and rewards of blasting Romney. On the one hand, a pro-Gingrich PAC vowed not to let up. "The Romney campaign and their arrogance will have us believe that because we criticized his (record) on jobs, that we are undermining the pillars of society and capitalism," Rick Tyler told MSNBC.

On the other hand, Gingrich's team isn't all-in against Romney until they air the 30-minute anti-Bain film. It was still available only online Thursday afternoon.

Romney critics have cast him and his former private-equity firm as as job-killers who ruthlessly raided struggling companies, a charge that, while exaggerated, contains enough truth to damage Romney. Observers had expected the attack from Obama's camp, not Romney's own kind.

Sen. Jim DeMint, an influential South Carolina Republican, joined a chorus of GOP leaders calling for a cease fire.

"I certainly don't like Republicans criticizing one of their own and sounding like Democrats," DeMint told radio host Mark Levin.

All this makes Romney the early front-runner in the Bain primary.

Image credit: Bain Capital/The Boston Globe

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Ron Fournier is editorial director of National Journal.

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