Dec. 28, 2011 — -- The potent line of attack that helped cost Mitt Romney a U.S. Senate seat 18 years ago is being resurrected as the former Massachusetts governor competes to become the Republican nominee for president, and the same man who embodied that attack told ABC News he is prepared to play that role all over again.
Labor organizer Randy Johnson was among the hundreds of blue-collar workers who lost their jobs at an American Pad and Paper (Ampad) factory in Marion, Indiana after Romney's private equity firm acquired the company in 1992.
"It was really one of the worst things I think I've had to deal with, because people … were at my desk crying, 'What do I do? I don't have a good college education… I just wanted to get to retirement,'" Johnson recalled in an interview with ABC News. "Families were devastated. In some cases, the husband and the wife both worked there. They lost all their income. It doesn't get much worse than that."
Bain Capital purchased Ampad in 1992, and Ampad purchased the factory where Johnson worked two years later. The new owners began cutting staff and wages at the plant, and raising the cost of health benefits. The unionized workers went on strike. Ultimately, the plant was shuttered and all the employees lost their jobs.
Johnson's powerful story from the dark days at Ampad became a political weapon that Democrats wielded against Romney in potent television ads. They aired during the closing days of Romney's bitter 1994 challenge to the then-incumbent Sen. Edward Kennedy. Johnson also traveled at his own expense to Massachusetts to participate in rallies against Romney's candidacy, in part with the hope that his efforts would pressure Bain Capital to preserve jobs at the struggling paper plant.
The one-time factory worker has long since moved out of Indiana and is now employed by the United Steelworkers in Pittsburgh. He believes that with unemployment as the focus of the 2012 presidential race, Romney's tenure at the helm of Bain Capital will again become grist for his political adversaries. And Johnson says he is preparing to assist again. (Johnson was approached directly by ABC News, and did not speak at the urging of any of Romney's political rivals, Democratic or Republican.)
Romney has defended his record as the CEO of Bain Capital while out on the stump, during debates, and in countless interviews. He told reporters last week he is prepared for attacks on his record in the private sector. "I know that the Democrats will try and make this a campaign about Bain Capital," he told TIME Magazine. "Twenty-five million people are out of work because of Barack Obama. And so I'll compare my experience in the private sector where, net-net, we created over 100,000 jobs."
"If you invest, as we did, in over 100 different businesses, there's no one in America that will have had a record where all of them were successful, where none of them shrank or where none went out of business," Romney told Time.
In his interview with ABC News, Johnson said he fully expects Romney to tout his business experience during the 2012 campaign. Johnson said he believes he has a responsibility to remind voters that there is another perspective on that experience -- the perspective of workers who lost their jobs when Bain purchased companies, reorganized them, collected millions in dividends, and then re-sold them for a profit.
"I was stunned by the amount of wealth he created in a short amount of time," Johnson said. "He definitely got the money, but was it the right thing to do? Was it the moral thing to do with workers and people?"
Romney Is Wealthiest Candidate in 2012 Field
Romney is the wealthiest candidate seeking the White House this term, with a family fortune estimated at $250 million. His publicly filed disclosure reports show his family still holds Bain assets worth up to $60 million, which provide his family millions of dollars in annual income. Romney has been aggressive in his defense of his tenure at the company, noting Bain's successful investments in companies like Staples, the office supply giant.
''Government doesn't create jobs, but the private sector does,'' Romney said during one recent debate. ''I spent my life, my career, in the private sector. I understand, by the way, from my successes and my failures what it's going to take to put Americans back to work with high-paying jobs.''
Johnson shared with ABC News a copy of a letter Romney wrote to him after he lost the 1994 Senate race, in which Romney suggested that the Ampad workers had been exploited by operatives for Kennedy's campaign. And Romney conceded that he felt badly that the Marion, Indiana plant had been forced to close.
Johnson said he didn't buy it.
"I bet he did feel badly," Johnson said. "He lost the election."