COLUMBIA, S.C. – Under questioning from a group of business leaders here, presidential candidates Newt Gingrich and Rick Perry on Tuesday stood by their criticism of Bain Capital and Republican front-runner Mitt Romney’s stewardship of the venture capital firm.
“I think this is one of the bigger acts of baloney in modern times. Raising a question of judgment about a particular person in a particular company who has made that one of his two major claims about running for president is hardly an attack on capitalism,” Gingrich told the crowd of a few hundred business leaders gathered for the South Carolina Business and Industry Political Education Committee.
Both Perry and Gingrich have come under fire for their comments from critics who say venture capitalism is a byproduct of the free market and should not be shunned especially by Republicans who champion that set of ideals. But both candidates, while seeming to back off their attacks in campaign events, have staunchly defended their own commitment to capitalism.
“The idea that somehow or another the governor who’s created a million jobs is anticapitalist is just a diversionary tactic,” said Perry, who was the first candidate to speak at the event. “The fact is, everyone who wants to be president of the United States, you better get ready for your sheets to get lifted up and to look under there and people to ask questions. And that’s fair, and that’s good, because we need to know.”
Former Sen. Rick Santorum, R-Pa., also spoke at the event. Aside from the brief Bain-related fireworks, all three candidates gave relatively dry speeches outlining their economic programs. Perry’s is heavily focused on increasing production of domestic energy and reducing tax and regulation burdens to create jobs; Santorum talks of ways to create a manufacturing renaissance in America; and Gingrich speaks business language when he talks about applying principles of Lean Six Sigma, a corporate management program, to the federal government.
They all paid homage to local issues, including the deepening of the Port of Charleston and the recent fight between Boeing Co. and the National Labor Relations Board, which sued the aircraft company for trying to move a plant into South Carolina, a right-to-work state.
Perry managed to draw some applause from the audience when asked what the NLRB would look like under his administration. “There wouldn’t be one,” was his pithy reply.
Naureen Khan and Sarah Huisenga contributed contributed to this article.
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