Taking Bain By The Horns (The Note)

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

GREENVILLE, S.C. - Mitt Romney's not taking any chances.

Even though a broad swath of Republicans, including some former enemies like Mike Huckabee, have been circling the wagons to defend Romney against attacks from the left and from the right over his work at Bain Capital, his campaign is moving to intercept any more incoming fire. http://abcn.ws/wIMFhx

Romney is out with his first ad of the election cycle specifically designed to tout his record at the private equity firm and scold his GOP rivals for using it as a weapon on the campaign trail.

"Mitt Romney helped create and ran a company that invested in struggling businesses, grew new ones and rebuilt old ones, creating thousands of jobs," the ad's female narrator says without mentioning Bain by name. "Those are the facts."

The ad, which is going up on the air in South Carolina today, quotes the Wall Street Journal, saying that Romney's "GOP opponents are embarrassing themselves by taking the Obama line."

The ad mentions three businesses that, as an executive at Bain, Romney had a hand in growing - Staples, Sports Authority and Steel Dynamics, an Indiana steel company. Today the Los Angeles Times has a lengthy piece about Steel Dynamics with a not-so-positive headline: "Mitt Romney no stranger to tax breaks, subsidies."

"The story of Bain and Steel Dynamics illustrates how Romney, during his business career, made avid use of public-private partnerships, something that many conservatives consider to be 'corporate welfare,'" the Times' Matea Gold, Melanie Mason and Tom Hamburger report. "It is a commitment that carried over into his term as governor of Massachusetts, when he offered similar incentives to lure businesses to his state." http://lat.ms/xDtxs1

And while the Bain issue seems to be receding as a official line of attack from the other Republican presidential hopefuls, Democrats show no signs of letting up as they prepare their arguments against the potential nominee.

In a four-page memo titled, "Romney's Economic Record:  Profit at Any Cost," President Obama's deputy campaign manager Stephanie Cutter pens a scathing critique of the former Massachusetts governor's background in the private sector.

"Mitt Romney and his friends made money hand over fist while working families lost their grip on the middle-class lifestyle they earned," Cutter writes in the memo released by the Obama campaign today. "Between now and November the American people will decide whether to respond to this crisis  by electing a corporate raider who profited from - and promises to restore - the conditions that  caused it, or re-electing a President fighting to level the playing field for American businesses,  restore fairness for consumers and help the middle class reclaim a sense of economic security  that will benefit the entire economy."

IS THE BAIN BACK-OFF A GOOD THING FOR ROMNEY? ABC News Political Director Amy Walter points out that while no candidate relishes a contentious intra-party primary fight, competition makes a contender stronger in the end. There's plenty of evidence, for example, that his epic battle with Hillary Clinton made Barack Obama a better candidate and campaigner. He faced the strongest Democratic political operation in the country - and beat it. If Romney were forced to defend his corporate record now, he'd have the chance to practice and ultimate hone his response to what everyone knows is going to be the main attack against him this fall. And, as we saw with last week's "pink slip" and "I like to be able to fire people" lines, Romney could use some practice on the whole responding to the attacks thing. Furthermore, the more that Romney's corporate past becomes part of the debate/story now, the less potent attacks on it may be later on. As one Democratic strategist noted, any tough ad put out against him post-primary will be new news to voters and he won't have had time to effectively road-test his response. http://abcn.ws/z8l8Ik

STEPHEN COLBERT IS IN IT - TO WIN IT? "I am proud to announce that I am forming an exploratory committee to lay the groundwork for my possible candidacy for president of the United States of South Carolina," Comedy Central's Stephen Colbert announced on the "The Colbert Report," last night. But as ABC's Elizabeth Hartfield notes, "even if Colbert were looking to run in the January 21st primary, the filing deadline for South Carolina's primary ballot is long past, so Mr. Colbert would have to rely on write-ins. Rather Colbert's announcement was a stunt in his long running narrative to call attention to the problems of the super PACs - the independent expenditure committees with unlimited fundraising ability - which are so prevalent in this election cycle. … 'With your help and with possibly the help of some outside group that I am not coordinating with, we can explore taking this country back,' Colbert proclaimed just before going to a commercial break. 'Thank you, God bless you, and God bless Citizens United.'" http://abcn.ws/zMgRXe

COLBERT SUPER PAC BUYS S.C. AIR TIME. On his show last night Stephen Colbert handed control of his super PAC, Citizens for a Better Tomorrow, Tomorrow, over to his Comedy Central colleague, Jon Stewart, host of "The Daily Show." And today ABC News has learned that the group is already buying up television air time in South Carolina. According to a source tracking ad buys in early primary states, the super PAC has purchased nearly $10,000 worth of time on a broadcast station in the Charleston, S.C. area between Jan. 15 and Jan. 19. And according to a South Carolina news web site, the Palmetto Public Record, the super PAC is also reportedly "negotiating a substantial media buy in the Columbia market."


DVR HEADS UP: THIS WEEK ON "THIS WEEK." Since ABC's George Stephanopoulos returned to "This Week," your DVR may not be recording the program. Make sure to reset that dial to This Week with George Stephanopoulos and tune in on Sunday morning.   http://abcn.ws/x8Vp6S



SANTORUM STEERS CLEAR OF BAIN ATTACKS. On the campaign trail yesterday Rick Santorum would not join the growing list of influential Republicans condemning Newt Gingrich and Rick Perry for their attacks on Mitt Romney's experience at Bain Capital. ABC's Shushannah Walshe notes that Santorum has made a point not to attack Romney on his private sector experience, steering away from the pile-on by other Republicans earlier this week. When Santorum criticizes Romney he usually does it without even using his name, but he does consistently go after him on healthcare and being too moderate to present voters with a clear contrast with President Obama in November. "Everyone can run the kind of campaign they want. I've run my campaign talking about the issues," Santorum said. "You've heard about Gov. Romney and his deplorable record in Massachusetts. And not one we want to have on the national stage juxtaposed to President Obama. We need someone who has a very strong record on the big issues of the day - healthcare, Wall Street bailouts, government in people's lives - we've got those contrasts and we've got a record of being able to win voters in the key states. That's why we hope the people of South Carolina will focus on that and give us a big bump."

NOTED: A new ad posted by the pro-Romney super PAC, "Restore Our Future," hits Santorum on everything from "pork barrel spending" to his support of a "tea pot museum and an indoor rainforest." http://bit.ly/z8h4VM

ARE OBAMA'S FUNDRAISING EXPECTATIONS TOO GREAT? "The Obama campaign raised roughly a quarter-billion in 2011, but Democrats worry that over-hyped expectations of a billion-dollar haul are dissuading donors from giving enough to fight Mitt Romney and an army of GOP super PACS," Politico's Glen Thrush reports. "Barack Obama's brain trust, party officials and fundraisers now concede the myth of Obama's 'billion-dollar' money bomb - pumped by some Democrats last year as a base-rousing tactic - might be the culprit behind recent fundraising totals that are good but not quite as good as hoped. It's an ironic development: Obama and his team are typically masters at managing expectations and were able to defeat Hillary Clinton's campaign by shattering her aura of inevitability with shocker wins in Iowa and South Carolina nearly four years ago to the day. 'It's a tough environment to raise money in already, but it's made worse by the fact that people think we already have enough,' a New York-based Democratic bundler told POLITICO hours after the campaign announced it had raised $68 million jointly with the Democratic National Committee. 'We don't. And I don't think Chicago has done enough to make that case up to this point.'" http://politi.co/zol9j6

WHY IT COULD BE A LONG RACE. "Mr. Romney's carefully tended network of Republican donors has been rendered functionally less important by 'super PACs,' through which a handful of wealthy individuals are financing a multimillion-dollar advertising barrage to assail his record and prop up his opponents," The New York Times' Jim Rutenberg and Nicholas Confessore note. "As a result, Mr. Romney's remaining opponents have little incentive to drop out, knowing that their support from super PACs and Internet contributions from grass-roots supporters can keep them in the race long after they would have remained viable in earlier eras, potentially draining money and delegates away from Mr. Romney even as he lurches toward the nomination. … On Thursday, even as hundreds of wealthy Republicans gathered in Palm Beach, Fla., and raised an estimated $1.5 million for Mr. Romney the old-fashioned way, a super PAC backing Mr. Gingrich began buying half-hour blocks of advertising time in South Carolina, with preparations to broadcast a scathing video about Mr. Romney's record as the founder of Bain Capital." http://nyti.ms/zNj2g3

FLORIDA PRIMARY PREP: WHY THIS STATE IS DIFFERENT. "Politicos courting the Sunshine State be warned: Latino voters in Florida are unlike those in the rest of the country," ABC's Matthew Jaffe reports. "'The Cuban and Puerto Rican communities dominate Florida's Hispanic vote. Unlike in swing states in the Southwest, Mexican-Americans do not comprise a significant portion of the Hispanic voting population in Florida. This requires national candidates to take a more nuanced approach to courting Hispanic voters in Florida,' said Carlos Curbelo, a Republican strategist in Florida. … For an indication of just how unique Florida Latinos are, look no further than the fact that they tend to vote Republican, while Hispanics throughout the rest of the country lean strongly toward Democrats. A new poll this week from Quinnipiac University revealed that Hispanic voters in Florida are almost evenly split in a hypothetical general election matchup between President Obama and GOP frontrunner Mitt Romney. The state overall currently favors Romney over Obama, with the former Massachusetts governor getting 46 percent of the vote and the incumbent president only 43 percent if the election were held today"

DON'T ANOINT ROMNEY JUST YET: ABC DOES THE MATH. "Mitt Romney may have won Iowa and New Hampshire, but even if he wins in South Carolina and Florida, he will technically still have a long way to go before winning the GOP nomination," notes ABC's Chris "The Calculator" Good. "Delegates - not voters - will decide the GOP nomination, and Iowa and New Hampshire award next to none, even as those states have bestowed on Romney a crush of media attention, a wave of momentum, and a growing impression of inevitability. In officially allocated - or 'bound' - delegates, Romney (seven) leads Ron Paul (three), and Jon Huntsman (two). If that sounds paltry, it is. To be nominated for president, a GOP candidate will need the support of 1,144 delegates, a majority of the 2,286 who will vote at the August convention. … Including projections of how Iowa's unbound delegates will vote at the August convention, ABC News' running delegate tally shows Romney (20) leading Rick Santorum (12), Paul (three) and Huntsman (two). Until Romney wins the obligated support of 1,144 delegates, he can't be crowned the GOP winner. Not until polls close in New York on April 24 will that many have been awarded, in total, to all the candidates combined." http://abcn.ws/xWBDqp


@ DianeSawyer : What better way to start an AM- w  @Oprah on the eve of the 1st grad for Oprah Winfrey Leadership Academy for Girls pic.twitter.com/TxGwkFxg

@ jonkarl : Newt Gingrich has found Romney's smoking gun - he speaks French just like John Kerry. Newt ad "The French Connection"  bit.ly/w3V61C

@ ArletteSaenz : Today is exactly five months to the day that  @GovernorPerry stepped into the presidential race.

@ markknoller : 10 months before the election, Pres Obama wants to be seen working to streamline the govt and make it more functional & efficient.

@ ByronYork : Romney hires former Huckabee adviser/ad man Bob Wickers.



-Mitt Romney is campaigning in South Carolina where he'll hold a grassroots rally in Aiken. In the late afternoon, Romney will deliver a speech in Hilton Head to a group of veterans.

-Newt Gingrich starts his day in Florida with a Meet & Greet in Miami at the Versailles Restaurant. Gingrich ends his day in Duncan, South Carolina at the Spartanburg GOP Bronze Elephant Presidential Forum and BBQ.

-Rick Santorum is on the trail in South Carolina with three events scheduled in Rock Hill, York, and Gaffney. Santorum will also end his day in Duncan at the Spartanburg GOP Bronze Elephant Presidential Forum and BBQ.

-Rick Perry will host three Meet & Greets in Hilton Head, Bluffton, and Charleston, South Carolina.

-ABC's Josh Haskell ( @HaskellBuzz)


DISPATCHES FROM THE TRAIL. Check out our new political website OTUSNews.com ( www.Otusnews.com) The Note ( http://abcnews.go.com/blogs/politics/the-note/) and ABC News/Politics ( http://abcnews.go.com/politics) and follow our reporters in the field on Twitter:

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

Jon Huntsman and: 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)


Check out The Note's Futures Calendar:  http://abcn.ws/ZI9gV


* Get  The Note delivered  to your inbox every day.

* For breaking political news and analysis check out The Note blog:  http://blogs.abcnews.com/thenote/ and ABCNews.com/Politics:  http://abcnews.com/politics