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Romney's Tough Final Day in New Hampshire

Romney's Tough Final Day in New Hampshire

By Erin McPike and Scott Conroy - January 10, 2012


BEDFORD, N.H. -- On a day when he hoped to build a final surge of momentum toward a resounding victory in today's New Hampshire primary, Mitt Romney wound up outflanked Monday as he tried to swat away a flurry of last-minute attacks from his Republican competitors on the right and President Obama's political apparatus on the left.

Romney's troubles began early in the morning when he told a crowd in Nashua, "I like being able to fire people who provide services to me."

The full context of the former businessman’s comments made clear that Romney was referring to Americans’ ability to choose their insurance companies and that he was not speaking about any particular joy he found from terminating employees. But that did not stop his GOP rivals from pouncing on the remark.

Within a few hours, Jon Huntsman made hay of the mark. In Concord, he said of Romney, “What’s clear is he likes firing people; I like creating jobs.”

And it didn’t stop there for the Huntsman campaign. Chief strategist John Weaver issued a statement to the press: "Today, Mitt Romney reminded voters why he's one of the weakest front-runners in presidential history. 'I like being able to fire people' doesn't exactly scream electability. History shows that nominating a gaffe-prone, out-of-touch, flip-flopping, inauthentic candidate is a losing strategy. Yet, John Kerry's legacy lives on with Mitt Romney.”

An adviser to Newt Gingrich compared Romney’s firing remark to famous political blunders that unraveled past presidential runs, like Mike Dukakis being photographed in a tank and Ed Muskie crying in the snow.

As Rick Perry spent the day stumping in South Carolina, the Texas governor’s campaign took the piling on to a new level by announcing the launch of a downloadable cellphone ring tone that played Romney’s “I like being able to fire people who provide services to me” comment on a continuous loop.

Perry himself tied in Romney’s remark from the previous day -- that he worried about getting a pink slip when he was climbing the corporate ladder -- with his new comment. He quipped: “I have no doubt that Mitt Romney was worried about pink slips -- whether he was going to have enough of them to hand out -- because his company Bain Capital and all the jobs that they killed. . . . I'm sure he was worried that he would run out of pink slips.”

And Democrats flooded reporters’ inboxes all day long with Web videos, commentary and coverage about the line. The Democratic National Committee blasted a 17-second video clip of Romney making the remark that was posted to Political Wire’s website under the headline “High Fives at DNC Headquarters.”

The Democratic group American Bridge issued a research document hitting Romney with a more substantive question based on the heart of his remark -- firing a service that isn’t performing well. “Why did he refuse to fire the landscaping company he employed to take care of his lawn even after he found out they hired illegal immigrants to care for his property?” the group asked. “He waited until he was running for office (for Pete's sake!) to do something about it.”

During a last-minute and brief press conference with reporters in Hudson, Romney explained with a calm smile that he was referring to insurance companies, not individuals, in his comment, and noted that Gingrich had only recently apologized for attacking his record at Bain before criticizing it once again.

"Things can always be taken out of context -- and I understand that that is what the Obama people are doing -- but as you know I was speaking about insurance companies and the need to be able to make a choice. And my comments entirely reflected that discussion, which is we should be able to choose the insurance company of our choice,” Romney said. “If you think I should spend my entire campaign carefully choosing how everything I say relates to people as opposed to saying my own experience and telling my own experience, that would make me a very different person than I am.”

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Erin McPike and Scott Conroy are national political reporters for RealClearPolitics. Erin can be reached at emcpike@realclearpolitics.com. Scott can be reached at sconroy@realclearpolitics.com

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