Republican presidential candidate Rick Perry speaks at Kinch's… (David Goldman / Associated…)
Reporting from Fort Mill, S.C. — Rick Perry, the lone Republican campaigning for president Tuesday in South Carolina, likened Mitt Romney to a greedy Wall Street “vulture” who was indifferent to the plight of workers who lost their jobs in deals that enriched his investment firm.
Seeking an early edge in South Carolina’s Jan. 21 primary while his rivals were tied up with Tuesday’s contest in New Hampshire, the Texas governor also ridiculed Rick Santorum’s congressional spending record.
Perry started slashing away at Romney’s record as chief executive at Bain Capital on Monday, but was more caustic Tuesday in condemning the firm’s practice of making money in corporate takeover deals that sometimes triggered job losses.
"They’re vultures that are sitting out there on the tree limb, waiting for the company to get sick, and then they sweep in, they eat the carcass, they leave with that, and they leave the skeleton,” Perry told about 100 seniors here at the Sun City retirement complex.
Perry took the analogy further in comments afterward to reporters.
“We have allowed these greedy people on Wall Street to take advantage” of small firms going through tough times, he said, alluding to the money that Bain collected in deals that put 150 people out of work at a photo-album manufacturing company in Gaffney, S.C., and cost steelworker jobs at a plant in Georgetown, S.C.
“Instead of trying to work with them to find a way to keep the jobs and to get them back on their feet, it’s all about how much money can we make, how quick can we make it, and then get out of town and find the next carcass to feed upon.”
Perry went on to castigate the Obama administration for allegedly failing to stop “self-dealing” on Wall Street.
“You’ve got to ask yourself, when the last three chiefs of staff for this president came out of Wall Street, you don’t think there’s a little bit of inside dealing going on there?” Perry asked reporters.
“That their buddies aren’t calling 'em up and saying, `Hey, how 'bout let’s not be quite that tough on those of us on Wall Street. We’re just good ol' boys out here trying to make a buck.’ This is a corrupt place. Wall Street and Washington are corrupt.”
Romney's campaign on Tuesday circulated a National Review editorial criticizing Perry and other Republicans for blaming him for job losses that resulted from Bain takeover deals.
"Wall Street has its share of miscreants, and they should be recognized as such when appropriate," it said. "But to abominate Mitt Romney for having been a success at the business of investing in struggling American companies, connecting entrepreneurs with capital and producers with markets, is foolish and destructive."
A committee supporting Newt Gingrich for president has produced a TV ad focusing on people who lost their jobs in Bain transactions under Romney.
In his remarks at Sun City, Perry, turning to Washington, described the pet projects championed by members of Congress as a prime symptom of the backscratching “virus” that plagues the capital.
"The next thing you know, you’ve got people like Rick Santorum, who’s voting for the bridge to nowhere, who’s voting for a teapot museum, who’s voting for the Montana Sheep Institute – with no transparency,” he said.
“Earmarks are the gateway drug to the spending addiction that we’ve got in Washington, D.C., and they have to be stopped.”
Perry’s poll ratings in South Carolina, as elsewhere, have collapsed in the aftermath of gaffes in televised debates. To resuscitate his campaign, he is casting himself as a Washington outsider with conservative Christian values and a record of fiscal restraint.
At Kinch’s diner Tuesday morning in Rock Hill, Perry made a case for state’s rights, faulting Obama's administration for challenging the South Carolina law requiring voters to show government ID cards in order to cast ballots.
“It is a war,” Perry said of South Carolina's conflict with the U.S. government over that and other laws.
Perry also used his state’s rights pitch to ding Romney for his record as governor of Massachusetts on taxes and healthcare.
“If you want to live in a state that has high taxes or a regulatory climate that is really big and burdensome … that has individual mandates on insurance, that says you have to buy insurance, you should be free to move to Massachusetts,” Perry told the crowd.
When a woman asked about abolishing the U.S. Department of Education, Perry tried to be self-deprecating.
"If you’ll recall, it was one of the agencies that I remembered,” Perry said to a burst of guffaws, referring to his failure in a debate to remember one of the three agencies he called for eliminating. “Don’t worry. I’m not going to forget that one – Energy, Commerce and the Department of Education.”