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Romney on Defense Before New Hampshire Vote as GOP Hopefuls Jockey for Support

January 9, 2012 at 12:00 AM EDT
As voters in New Hampshire prepare to cast their ballots in Tuesday's primary, the GOP field touched on health care and jobs, while spreading 11th-hour criticism of their fellow presidential contenders. Judy Woodruff reports.
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JUDY WOODRUFF: We turn to the Republican presidential campaign now, as voters in New Hampshire prepare to cast primary ballots.

MITT ROMNEY (R): This is Mitt Romney calling. How are you today?

JUDY WOODRUFF: The front-runner, Mitt Romney, spent part of his primary eve phoning New Hampshire voters and part of it doing damage control. The former Massachusetts governor touched off a tempest at a Chamber of Commerce breakfast in Nashua. He was arguing that health care consumers should be able to change insurers the way employers lay off workers, when he said this.

MITT ROMNEY: I like being able to fire people who provide services to me. If someone doesn’t give me the good service I need, I want to say that if — I’m going to get somebody else to provide that service to me.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Former Utah Gov. Jon Huntsman in Concord jumped on the comment saying: “Governor Romney enjoys firing people. I enjoy creating jobs.”

Huntsman, after skipping Iowa, is vying for second place in New Hampshire. And his campaign hoped for a late Romney stumble.

This afternoon, Romney tried to shake off the furor.

MITT ROMNEY: Things can always be taken out of context. And I understand that that’s what the Obama people will do. 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.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Even so, rivals stepped up their criticism of Romney’s 15-year tenure running the investment firm Bain Capital from 1984 to 1999. He has said he helped create 100,000 jobs.

But a group backing Newt Gingrich put out an online documentary, “King of Bain,” painting Romney as a corporate takeover artist who killed companies and jobs.

NARRATOR: Mitt Romney became CEO of Bain Capital the day the company was formed. His mission: to reap massive rewards for himself and his investors.

MAN: Mitt Romney and them guys, they don’t care who I am.

WOMAN: He’s for small businesses? No, he isn’t.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Gingrich released his own Web ad today attacking Romney. The former House speaker also charged that Bain Capital — quote — “apparently looted its takeover targets.”

Meanwhile, Texas Gov. Rick Perry campaigning in Anderson, South Carolina, got in his dig at Romney.

GOV. RICK PERRY, R-Texas: There is something inherently wrong when getting rich off failure and sticking it to someone else is how you do your business. I happen to think that that is indefensible.

JUDY WOODRUFF: It was unclear how the 11th-hour criticism would play. But polls taken through the weekend showed Romney holding on to a strong lead ahead of Tuesday’s vote.

In fact, Rick Santorum, who missed winning Iowa by just a handful of votes, said today that a second-place finish in New Hampshire would be a dream come true.

The former Pennsylvania senator spoke in Nashua.

RICK SANTORUM (R): I’m interviewing, if you will, for president of the United States in a general election. I’m not just trying to interview to win a primary. I want folks here to know that I’m capable of dealing with all of the issues with protesters screaming in my ear, because that’s the American experience. That’s what democracy is all about.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Texas Congressman Ron Paul, who finished third in Iowa, had so many news people show up at an event in Manchester this morning, he had to cut it short. He did manage to speak at another event in Hollis.

REP. RON PAUL, R-Texas: I guess you have noticed the campaign has picked up a lot of steam and a lot of interest. And wherever we go, it seems like there’s been a lot of questions. But there are still some that are undecided, and hopefully we can reach them.

JUDY WOODRUFF: And in the closing hours, reaching them, voters of all stripes, was the last big test facing the candidates in New Hampshire.