WASHINGTON - Republican presidential hopeful Mitt Romney is poised to sail to victory in New Hampshire's first-in-the-nation primary on Tuesday, but there's a shark lurking in the waters ahead — a damning short film that delves into his tenure as the head of a private equity firm.
Newt Gingrich's supporters are about to release "When Mitt Romney Came To Town," a 30-minute spot about Romney's 15 years at the helm of Boston-based Bain Capital. The film portrays Romney as a soulless corporate titan who looted companies and threw hard-working Americans out of work as he amassed billions for the firm's investors.
In a weekend debate in New Hampshire, a peeved Gingrich — who blames Romney for his falling fortunes in the Republican race — warned his rival the spot was coming. Democrats are also rubbing their hands together in glee about the impending release.
"Given the weight of negativity that Romney threw at us in Iowa, you would be little bit less than human if you weren't pretty happy that you're now going to see a more even playing field," Gingrich said Monday in New Hampshire.
"My guess is that at some point in the next week or 10 days, he's going to have to have a press conference and just answer a lot of questions. And then people will decide if the film is accurate or inaccurate."
Bain's has been accused of investing in some companies, leveraging them with debt and then selling them off, allowing the firm's investors to walk away with huge profits. The companies, meantime, were left almost bankrupt, forcing them to lay off employees and deny benefits.
The Wall Street Journal reported Monday that during Romney's tenure, 22 per cent of the Bain-invested companies went bankrupt or shut down completely as the firm made billions of dollars for investors. There have also been allegations that Bain hid its profits in offshore tax havens.
Romney has defended his work at Bain, claiming the firm enriched many of the companies it took on, including Staples, Dominos Pizza and Sports Authority, and created 100,000 jobs in the process.
The Romney campaign launched countermeasures Monday against Gingrich's "attacks on free enterprise," calling his criticism the type "we've come to expect from President Obama and his left-wing allies."
But Rick Tyler, a former Gingrich aide who's now helping run the political action committee that will release the film, fought back, disputing the notion that Bain's practices had anything to do with "free enterprise."
Instead, said Tyler on a conservative radio show, it's "predatory corporate mugging."
Romney didn't do much to help himself on Monday as he tried to explain his record on public health care by saying he enjoyed firing people.
"I want individuals to have their own insurance. That means the insurance company will have an incentive to keep you healthy," he said at a campaign stop in New Hampshire.
"It also means that if you don't like what they do, you could fire them. I like being able to fire people who provide services to me. You know, if someone isn't giving the good service, I want to say, I'm going to go get someone else."
"I like being able to fire people" is almost certainly a quote destined for anti-Romney attack ads from the Obama campaign if the former Massachusetts governor ultimately wins the Republican nomination.
Indeed, chief Obama strategist David Axelrod took to Twitter to highlight the quote by late morning, adding: "Giving Mitt credit for a rare moment of candour." The Democratic National Committee also put the clip up on its website.
Tyler was asked if Gingrich supporters weren't handing a gift to Obama's re-election campaign by focusing on Romney's years at Bain. On the Laura Ingraham Show, he said Democrats were already onto it.
"I don't think David Axelrod and the Occupy (Wall Street) movement are going to give him a pass on this," Tyler said.
Gingrich supporters are about to spend more than $3 million in South Carolina to attack Romney on Bain in advance of the state's Jan. 21 primary, the first in the South.
Romney currently sits atop the polls in the so-called Palmetto State, but South Carolina's socially conservative voters have long been wary of him, in part because of his Mormon faith but also because they suspect he's a dreaded moderate. His lead in the polls there could be precarious if the attacks on him start to resonate.
Former Texas Gov. Rick Perry was already in South Carolina on Monday, hammering away at Romney's stewardship of Bain Capital.
"There is something inherently wrong when getting rich off failure and sticking it to someone else is how you do your business," Perry said in Anderson, S.C.
Perry also mocked Romney's recent insistence that he, too, had once worried about losing his job and getting a pink slip. Romney is a multi-millionaire from a privileged background whose wealthy father, George Romney, was the one-time head of American Motors Corp.
"I have no doubt Mitt Romney was worried about pink slips — whether he was going to have enough of them to hand out because of his company, Bain Capital, and all the jobs that they killed," Perry said.