Foot in Mouth

Romney on Defense for ‘I Like to Fire People’ Remark

The frontrunner is scrambling to defend a foot-in-mouth comment. Patricia Murphy reports.

The gloves are officially off. With one day left until the New Hampshire primary and precious little time to pull votes away from their rivals, the GOP contenders unleashed a series of attacks on each other Monday. As has been the case for most of the campaign, the contest seemed to be between a confident Mitt Romney and the rest of the world.

Romney showed up relaxed in shirtsleeves Monday at a town-hall meeting in Hudson, N.H., but found himself answering a barrage of questions from the press about a controversy he sparked earlier in the day when he told the Nashua Chamber of Commerce, “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, ‘You know, I’m going to get someone else to provide this service to me.’”

At a press availability in Hudson, the first he has held in more than a week, Romney clarified that comment, explaining that the people he was talking about firing were insurance providers.

“You saw what I said about insurance companies?” he said to a reporter. “We like to be able to fire insurance companies that don’t give us the insurance that we need. I don’t want to live in a world where we have Obamacare telling us which insurance we can have, which doctor we can have, which hospital we go to.”

As Tuesday’s primary has approached, Romney’s GOP rivals have tried to paint a picture of him as a corporate raider, uninterested in the struggles of everyday Americans. Romney’s net worth is estimated at $250 million.

Jon Huntsman seized on Romney’s Nashua comments, calling them evidence that Romney is “completely out of touch.”

“I don't like to fire people, I like to create Jobs,” Huntsman said.

Newt Gingrich hammered Romney on Sunday, accusing him of “looting” companies at Bain Capital. “We find it pretty hard to justify rich people figuring out clever legal ways to loot a company, leaving behind 1,700 families without a job,” Gingrich said at a campaign stop.

Romney said Huntsman was merely taking his words out of context, while he dismissed Gingrich’s attacks entirely with a smile and a wave of his hand. “As we’ll find out, free enterprise will be on trial,” Romney said. “I just thought it was going to come from President Obama and the Democrats on the left, but apparently it’s coming from Speaker Gingrich and others.”

Romney made his remarks after visiting Gilchrist Metal Fabricating, a third-generation family-owned business based in Hudson. Still the clear frontrunner in the New Hampshire polls, he entered to chants of “Mitt! Mitt! Mitt!” with his wife and three of his five sons.

After delivering a few jokes, including his favorite zinger about Iowans considering corn to be “amber waves of grain,” Romney told the assembled workers, press, and local voters what he would do as president, including cutting spending, rebuilding the military, cutting corporate taxes to 25 percent, and cutting benefits for future retirees to rein in the cost of Social Security and Medicare.

Although many of the workers were skeptical about Romney before he came, simply shrugging their shoulders when asked if they were supporters, several had changed their minds after seeing the former Massachusetts governor in person.

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“He’s got my vote,” one worker said, asking not to be identified because he is an employee at the factory. “He just seemed genuine. He might be a liar, but he seemed genuine to me.”