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Democrats target Mitt Romney’s role concerning job cuts while at Bain

DES MOINES – With just two days left before the Iowa caucuses, national Democrats are attempting to put a harsh spotlight on front-runner Mitt Romney this morning by using a former union worker at an Ampad paper plant that Romney’s investment firm shuttered.

Randy Johnson, who was a union worker at Ampad, will hold a press conference here to highlight unflattering aspects of Romney’s business career, according to a Democratic Party official.

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The move, which resurrects a tactic used by Senator Edward M. Kennedy when Romney challenged him for US Senate in 1994, indicates how focused national Democrats are on the former Massachusetts governor. It also illustrates how eager President Obama and his supporters are to emphasize Romney’s career as a Boston-based venture capitalist.

Romney cites his business credentials as a predictor of his ability to become president and steer the nation’s shaky economy to stability. At times, he mentions specific companies, such as Staples and Steel Dynamics, as business decisions that helped create thousands of jobs.

Romney has preemptively discussed the attacks, saying that some of his business decisions worked and some didn’t.

“I know that there’s going to be every effort to put free enterprise on trial and to attack free enterprise, to attack people who work in free enterprise, to attack those who believe that profit is good,” Romney told Chris Wallace two weeks ago on Fox News Sunday.

“I recognize, the president’s going to go after me,” he added. “I’ll go after him.”

The American Pad and Paper company was acquired by Bain Capital, the venture capital firm Romney oversaw, in 1992. Two years later, Ampad bought an office supplies division, including a Marion, Ind., plant of typewriter maker Smith Corona. After a bitter strike, Ampad shuttered the plant in 1995, moving equipment and production to other factories.

Johnson, a union official at the plant, wrote a personal letter to Romney in early 1995, saying that Romney had not done enough to settle the strike, the Globe reported in 2008 .

“We really thought you might help,” Johnson said in the handwritten note, “but instead we heard excuses that were unacceptable from a man of your prominent position.”

Romney responded by saying that he had “privately” urged a settlement but was advised by lawyers not to intervene directly. He also said the strike had hurt his 1994 bid to unseat Kennedy, adding that no one would have wanted to settle the strike more than he.

“I was advised by counsel that I could not play a role in the dispute,” Romney explained. “I hope you understand I could not direct or order Ampad to settle the strike or keep the plant open or otherwise do what might be in my personal interest.”

Johnson later took a job at the United Paperworkers union. He now works for the United Steelworks and lives in Pittsburgh. He will conduct media interviews throughout the day and travel across Iowa.

Matt Viser can be reached at maviser@globe.com.
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