COLUMBIA, S.C. — Gov. Rick Perry is running into some blowback from voters over his attacks on “multimillionaire” Mitt Romney and the brand of “vulture capitalism” the former Massachusetts governor supposedly practiced at a corporate takeover firm.
Perry’s repeated swipes at Romney’s track record at Bain Capital, which specialized in turning around and in some cases shutting down troubled companies, have largely drawn blank stares at the events the Texas governor has been staging in South Carolina.
After the speeches, some voters have said they don’t understand why turning a buck, as long as it’s done legally and without government bailouts, should haunt a Republican candidate in a staunchly conservative GOP primary. And they worry that the attacks could weaken Romney, who has won the first two contests already, if he clinches the Republican nomination.
“In capitalism there are some winners and some losers. And it’s unfortunate, but that’s how our system works,” said Colleen Morrow, who came to see Perry speak at Doc’s BBQ and Southern Buffet in Columbia on Wednesday. “I’m not going to condemn Romney for that.”
As it turns out, Perry had dropped the line from his speech by the time he got to the event in Columbia. Aides say it had nothing to do with the controversy the remarks have been generating, but Perry didn't say anything about it at a subsequent stop in Aiken, either.
Morrow was glad Perry didn’t repeat the attacks and, despite her misgivings on the Bain issue, told Perry she would be supporting him in the Jan. 21 primary.
Perry wasn’t as lucky with GOP voter Carl Watson. A retired investment banker and former campaign worker here for George W. Bush, Watson had been planning to support the Texas governor. He said he liked Perry’s pro-business credentials and focus on job creation, but is now in the “undecided” column after hearing Perry's attacks on Romney’s business career.
He said the criticism sounded like something Democrats would level, and Watson fears Perry — and fellow Romney basher Newt Gingrich — could wind up helping President Obama in the process.
“I am really disappointed in this attack on Romney. I think it’s going to hurt him, I really do. It’s just fodder for the Democrats,” Watson said. “I think it’s class warfare against somebody that was successful.”
Perry started attacking Romney’s business record on Monday, hoping to localize the criticism by citing companies in two South Carolina towns — Gaffney and Georgetown — that suffered big layoffs on Bain's watch. Over the next couple of days he intensified the criticism, calling Bain’s style of business dealings “vulture capitalism.”
Though he received some criticism from conservative commentators such as Rush Limbaugh and Sean Hannity, Perry took Romney to task over Bain again Wednesday morning at Lizard’s Thicket restaurant in Lexington.
"The idea that we can't criticize someone with these get-rich-quick schemes is not appropriate in my perspective," Perry said.
Gingrich, the former U.S. House speaker, has also unleashed on Romney, and an independent Super PAC supporting him is releasing a 30-minute video entitled the “King of Bain,” recounting the stories of people whose lives were negatively impacted by the firm.
Romney’s campaign says he is proud of his record in the private sector and dismissed the criticism as “desperate” attacks from “floundering” rivals.
Perry spokesman Mark Miner said Perry was not backing down from the attacks on the front-runner.
“People were impacted by these decisions — real people in real towns in this state,” he said.
KUT senior reporter Ben Philpott contributed to this report.