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Mitt Romney's time running the private equity firm Bain Capital is now front and center in the 2012 presidential race. The Obama campaign has released ads hitting Romney and Bain for cutting jobs and shutting down companies to reap big profits. The Romney campaign has countered with Bain success stories. Complicating things have been comments by some high profile supporters of Mr. Obama, including Newark Mayor Corey Booker, criticizing the attacks centered on Bain.
NPR National Political Correspondent Don Gonyea has more.
DON GONYEA, BYLINE: The Bain story gets to the core of Mitt Romney's campaign for the White House, that his business experience means he is far more qualified than the president when it comes to the economy and creating jobs. So with new TV and Web ads doing battle on that topic and with Obama surrogates, such as Mayor Booker, seemingly contradicting the president's own campaign, it's no surprise that Mr. Obama was asked about it at the NATO summit in Chicago yesterday. He said this about his opponent.
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PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA: And if the main basis for him suggesting he can do a better job is his track record as the head of a private equity firm, then both the upsides and the downsides are worth examining.
GONYEA: An Obama ad released a week ago and immediately started the debate. It featured former steel workers from a Missouri factory that Bain bought.
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JOE SOPTIC: They made as much money off it as they could, and they closed it down. They filed for bankruptcy without any concern for the families or the communities.
JACK COBB: It was like a vampire. They came in and sucked the life out of us.
GONYEA: That prompted Steve Rattner, the Obama administration's former auto czar, to say last week that Bain acted within the rules, and that the ad was unfair. Then, on Sunday morning, Newark's Mayor Booker was on "Meet the Press," calling the anti-Bain ad, quote, "nauseating."
MONTAGNE: By yesterday, Booker was the star of a new Romney web ad.
UNIDENTIFIED MAN: Have you had enough of President Obama's attacks on free enterprise? His own key supporters have: Democrat Mayor Cory Booker of New Jersey.
MAYOR CORY BOOKER: I have to just say from a very personal level, I'm not about to sit here and indict private equity.
GONYEA: Since Sunday morning, Booker has been revising his comments. First came a YouTube video in which he says Romney's Bain record is fair game. Then last night, he was on MSNBC.
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BOOKER: Let me be clear: Mitt Romney has made his business record a centerpiece of his campaign. He's talked about himself as a job creator, and therefore, it is reasonable - and, in fact, I encourage it - for the Obama campaign to examine that record and to discuss it. I have no problem with that.
GONYEA: There is good reason for the Obama campaign to focus on Bain Capital. The attack has already been field tested by Newt Gingrich in the South Carolina Republican primary.
Longtime Democratic pollster Geoff Garin.
GEOFF GARIN: We happened to have polled in South Carolina during that primary, and blue collar and working class voters really took Romney's record at Bain seriously, and it was a factor in their decision to reject him there.
GONYEA: Bain Capital certainly has become the issue of the moment in these early days of the general election campaign. It also appears to be one that's not going away.
Don Gonyea, NPR News, Washington. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.