New Hampshire primary: Mitt Romney says he 'likes firing people'
Mitt Romney has made the most glaring gaffe of his campaign to date, saying he "liked firing people", just as opponents have started rounding on him for the predatory nature of the financial firm he ran for 14 years.
The front-runner for the Republican presidential nomination is closing in on victory in New Hampshire on Tuesday night, but his prospects there and in future primary contests are now threatened by an off the cuff remark made during an question and answer session at a chamber of commerce breakfast meeting.
In the course of an answer on how to bring down health care costs, Mr Romney said he wanted individuals to buy their own health insurance rather than have their company buy it for them.
"That means the insurance company will have an incentive to keep you healthy. 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 to provide this service," he said.
In its full context the quote may seem more benign, but as a sound bite it will provide powerful ammunition not only to any of his Republican opponents who choose to use it but, should he win the nomination, to President Barack Obama's campaign.
Ben La Bolt, a spokesman for Mr Obama's campaign reacted quickly on Twitter simply with three exclamation remarks.
Mr Romney has run a highly disciplined campaign but he appeared to let his guard drop before a friendly audience of entrepreneurs and small business owners in Nashua in southern New Hampshire.
Towards the end of the session, he was also drawn into a row with the local representative of the United Auto Workers union, who criticised his argument that Mr Obama should have let General Motors go into full bankruptcy rather than place it partly under union ownership in his bail-out plan.
"How can you talk about creating good paying jobs, when the jobs you created have been low paid jobs with poor benefits," Julie Kushner asked Mr Romney.
"I believe the market works better than the president stepping in to take care of his friends," he retorted.
Afterwards Mrs Kushner said: "To hear him say he likes to fire people, today, in this economy, in that flippant way was upsetting to people working hard and playing by the rules."
Mr Romney's faux pas came as Newt Gingrich, the former House Speaker, prepared to release a half-hour film designed to destroy his claims to be a job-creating entrepreneur.
Mr Gingrich has already attacked Mr Romney for making millions as chief executive officer of Bain Capital, a venture capital firm, while laying off workers.
He referred to Romney's job at Bain as "a Wall Street model where you can flip companies, you can go in and have leveraged buyouts, you can basically take out all the money, leaving behind the workers".
Democrats have also repeatedly attacked Romney's tenure at Bain, whose major successes included investing in Staples. Mr Romney has claimed that the company's investments under his leadership created more than 100,000 jobs.