Are Mitt Romney's Foes Backing Off Bain? (The Note)

By MICHAEL FALCONE ( @michaelpfalcone ) and AMY WALTER ( @amyewalter )

GREENVILLE, S.C. - Mitt Romney arrived in South Carolina yesterday to kick off his final push before the Jan. 21 primary here, but his campaign's efforts to combat the withering attacks on his business record were already underway.

In a sign of how seriously the campaign is taking the hits on Romney's record as the head of the private equity firm, Bain Capital, they unleashed a full court press against their foes - both Republican and Democrat.

The push-back was evident in the words of the state's governor, Nikki Haley, a supporter of Romney who introduced him at a campaign rally in Columbia, S.C. last night.

"I am proud of all of our Republican candidates," said Haley. "But we have a real problem when we have Republicans talking like dang Democrats against the free market. We believe in free markets."

Turns out Haley was right on message.

As Politico's Reid Epstein reports, the Romney campaign plans to begin running "advertisements featuring employees of companies started and rescued by Bain telling their stories - a direct response to the documentary released by the pro-Newt Gingrich super PAC that features employees of four companies closed by Bain that brutally slams Romney as a job killer. That documentary is set to be parceled out into shorter commercials that will air in South Carolina with a $3.4 million ad buy."

And The New York Times' Jim Rutenberg and Jeff Zeleny note that at Romney's Boston headquarters yesterday, campaign officials "held conference calls with his huge array of endorsers around the nation, sent talking points to supporters and enlisted go-betweens to tell leaders of the pro-Gingrich group Winning Our Future that they were harming the party with the attacks."

But the super PACs aside, there is also evidence that some of Romney's Republican opponents may not be as willing as they were just a few days ago to continue their attacks.

The Note is hearing that Newt Gingrich's attacks on Bain may be coming to an end. A GOP source says that Gingrich "got backlash from donors on Bain ads coming off as anti-capitalism." Look for the former House Speaker's team to pivot to other issues soon.

And Rick Perry, who accused companies like the one Romney ran of behaving like "vultures," seems to be backing off too. As ABC's Arlette Saenz notes, though Perry began his day by bashing Romney, at his last three events he completely wiped the rhetoric from his speeches.

With more than a week left of campaigning and the air wars and ground wars in South Carolina heating up, we'll soon see just how far Romney's foes are willing to go to try to knock him off his pedestal.

ROMNEY ACKNOWLEDGES 'UPHILL BATTLE' IN SOUTH CAROLINA. On Wednesday Mitt Romney told reporters that he is facing "more of an uphill battle in South Carolina than I have in New Hampshire. And with regards to South Carolina, last time I came in fourth, so our team recognizes that this is going to be a challenge." As ABC's Emily Friedman notes, Romney has already hit the ground running with events yesterday and today and more scheduled through the weekend across the state. But when asked whether he expected a so-called "whisper campaign" to meet him, Romney didn't rule it out. "You know, as was said long, long ago, politics ain't beanbags," said Romney. "And I know it's gonna get tough and no one's gonna be happy if things are said that are untrue."

NOTED: With Mitt Romney's Mormon faith often under the microscope, a new survey released Thursday finds that most Mormons feel they are misunderstood, discriminated against and not accepted by Americans as part of mainstream society, according to ABC's Huma Khan. In a survey by the Pew Research Center's Forum on Religion & Public Life, a majority of Mormons cite misperceptions about their faith, discrimination and lack of acceptance as the biggest challenges facing them. Two-thirds, or 68 percent, feel they are not viewed as mainstream by society, while six in 10 say that Americans in general are uninformed about the Mormon faith. Nearly half of those polled, about 46 percent, say there is "a lot" of discrimination against their faith, while 54 percent feel that Mormons' portrayal in television and movies hurts their image.

OBAMA'S CASH INFUSION. "President Obama raised $42 million for his re-election effort in the three closing months of 2011, with almost all donations coming in increments of $250 or less, his campaign manager Jim Messina said today in a web video," ABC's Devin Dwyer reports. "The total, one of the indicators of a campaign's strength, underscored the robustness of Obama's operation, before the president has fully transitioned to campaign mode. It also highlights his continued success at re-engaging old supporters and enlisting new ones for 2012. For all of 2011, more than 1.3 million Americans donated to help re-elect Obama, Messina said, exceeding their base of donors-supporters at this point in the last campaign. More than 583,000 people wrote checks or gave money online between October and December alone, including 200,000 brand new faces who had never donated to Obama before, he said. Ninety-eight percent of donations were $250 or less, with an average donation of $55, according to the campaign."

BY THE NUMBERS: Today's announcement means Obama has raised more than $131 million for his campaign so far.

Q2 2011 - $47 M Q3 2011 - $42.8 M Q4 2011 - $42 M

Combined with what has been raised together with the DNC - the total exceeds $220 million.

GOP COUNTER-PROGRAMMING. "While Obama has failed to create jobs, decrease our national debt or change Washington as he promised, he's proven he is good on lining his campaign coffers and opening up the White House to special interests who are willing to write big campaign checks," Republican National Committee spokeswoman Kirsten Kukowski said in a statement. "The White House may try to pretend the president isn't focused on his re-election but Americans know he's more interested in campaigning to save his own job than creating jobs for our country's unemployed."



Q:  Who trounced the competition among voters 18-29 in New Hampshire with 42 percent of the vote? (A: Ron Paul)

Q:  Who is winning the political memorabilia primary? (A: Ron Paul in a landslide. So far, 54 percent of campaign memorabilia sales are his - 18 percent for Obama, 9 percent for Romney.)

Q:  After Iowa & NH, who is second in total votes, delegates and cash? (A: Ron Paul)

Q:  Who is the only candidate other than Romney on all 50 state primary ballots? (A: Ron Paul)

BOTTOM LINE: The Paul brigades are out to shakeup the Republican Party and, if Paul continues doing what he has been doing, he will bring a lot them right into the GOP convention in Tampa. They won't be quiet.



RICK SANTORUM BETTING BIG ON SOUTH CAROLINA. ABC's Russell Goldman reports: Rick Santorum is betting heavily on South Carolina, buying up $1.5 million worth of television ads ahead of next week's primary, but one would be hard-pressed to get the former Pennsylvania senator to admit just how important winning this state is to his prospects of sealing the GOP nomination. Asked if he, like opponent Newt Gingrich, believes South Carolina is a "must-win state," Santorum punted, calling this critical primary state just "the third state out of 50." "I wouldn't call that the must-win category. We're going to do well here and we're going to fight," he said. Santorum is hoping that this socially conservative state will deliver him an upset victory, telegraphing to future primary states that the nomination of frontrunner Mitt Romney is not a foregone conclusion.

RON PAUL PREDICTS TOP-TIER FINISH IN S.C. A confident Ron Paul today predicted a "top tier' finish in the South Carolina primary, ABC's Jason Volack notes. Fresh off his strong second place showing in the New Hampshire primary, Paul said his campaign is "gathering momentum," adding he sent a positive message out of Iowa and New Hampshire and he hopes to do the same in South Carolina Jan. 21. The Texas congressman told a crowd of more than 200 people in an aviation hangar near the Columbia Metropolitan Airport that his support was expanding beyond "a tireless irate minority." "The numbers are growing. They grew exponentially in New Hampshire and they're going to grow continuously in South Carolina as well," said Paul. Although the congressman promised to be "very, very, busy" before the Jan. 21 primary, he headed home to Texas for another multi-day break from campaigning.

THE BILLIONAIRE PRIMARY. "Meet the three billionaires who could drag out the GOP presidential primary, bloody up front-runner Mitt Romney and weaken the odds of defeating President Barack Obama: Sheldon Adelson, Foster Friess and Jon Huntsman, Sr.," writes Politico's Ken Vogel. "The three men are contributing millions of dollars to a trio of outside groups flooding the airwaves in early voting states with brutal ads attacking Romney and ads backing the candidates they would prefer to win the Republican nomination. Adelson, a Las Vegas casino mogul, has written a $5 million check - and has considered giving much more - to a so-called super PAC backing Newt Gingrich's presidential campaign. Huntsman, Sr., who made his fortune at the helm of an eponymous chemical and manufacturing company, reportedly has invested millions in a super PAC supporting the presidential bid of his son, former Utah Gov. Jon Huntsman, Jr. And Friess, a Wyoming mutual fund master, acknowledged to POLITICO that he is a major financial backer of a super PAC supporting Rick Santorum called the Red, White and Blue Fund and is preparing to give more, but declined to say how much he has given or plans to give."

RACE IS ON IN FLORIDA. "Voting is already well under way even though Florida doesn't hold its GOP nominating contest until Jan. 31. And both Mitt Romney, coming off of back-to-back victories in Iowa and New Hampshire, and Ron Paul are aggressively reaching out to voters who have requested ballots," according to a dispatch from the Associated Press. "None of their competitors has been nearly as active even though the victor in Florida would get a huge boost of momentum and all of the state's 50 delegates to the national nominating convention. As of Tuesday, 424,000 Republican absentee ballots had been mailed - to military personnel, overseas residents and other Floridians - and about 84,000 had been returned in a state that has 4 million registered Republican voters. Early voting in Hillsborough, Hardy, Hendry, Monroe and Collier counties begins Monday and runs through Jan. 29. Florida's other 62 counties will hold early voting Jan. 21-28. Republican insiders expect as many as a third of the GOP ballots to be cast early in the effort to choose a nominee to oppose President Barack Obama."

BUSINESS LEADER PROMISES ACCOUNTABILITY. In his annual State of American Business address this morning U.S. Chamber President and CEO Tom Donohue pledged that the business group will hold lawmakers and candidates accountable for their positions on jobs and economic growth through its most aggressive voter education effort in the institution's 100 year history.  "In overwhelming numbers, Americans believe that the country is on the wrong track," he said.  "They want their leaders to lead, to find solutions to our problems and to stop playing political games with people's jobs, livelihoods and life savings."


@ jdickerson : Romney thinks income inequality should be talked about only in "quiet rooms"

@ ByronYork : How high can Paul go? And what clout will he have by end of primary season, when other candidates are gone?

@ mattklewis : Gingrich looks to be gaining on Romney in SC -…

@ shiratoeplitz : . @LouBarletta backed  @RickSantorum today. Same campaign manager ran both of their last races:  @VinceGalko  #PAGOP

@ mkraju : American Crossroads out with $30k radio ad attacking Bob Kerrey, who hasn't even said whether he'd run for the open Nebraska Senate seat

DISPATCHES FROM THE TRAIL. Check out our new political website ( The Note ( and ABC News/Politics ( and follow our reporters in the field on Twitter:

Newt Gingrich : ABC's Elicia Dover ( @EliciaDover)

Jon Huntsman : ABC's Susan Archer ( @TheOnlyArcher)

Ron Paul : ABC's Jason Volack ( @Jason_Volack)

Rick Perry : ABC's Arlette Saenz ( @ArletteSaenz)

Mitt Romney : ABC's Emily Friedman ( @EmilyABC)

Rick Santorum : ABC's Shushannah Walshe ( @shushwalshe) and ABC's Russell Goldman ( @GoldmanRussell)

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