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Romney says he knows the fear of a pink slip

ROCHESTER, N.H. — Mitt Romney, hours after a debate this morning where he was attacked for his business record, sought to display his empathy for average Americans by talking of stocking the shelves at Staples. He said he, too, knows what it’s like to be afraid of a pink slip.

“I know what it’s like to worry whether you’re gonna get fired,” he told about 600 people in an Opera House here. “There were a couple of times I wondered whether I was going to get a pink slip.’’

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Romney’s campaign did not immediately respond when asked when he worried about being fired. The multi-millionaire former governor of Massachusetts spent much of his career as a venture capitalist and equity investor at Bain Capital in Boston.

“For a while I worked in what’s called venture capital. What is that?” Romney asked aloud this afternoon. “Well, we got money from other people and we would use that to help start businesses or sometimes acquire businesses that were in trouble or not doing so well and then try and make it better or get the businesses to grow. And when you have other people’s money and your own invested in something you’re very careful with it.”

Romney highlighted his experience with Staples, one of the most successful businesses he’s been associated with and one he frequently mentions on the campaign trail.

“We opened the very first store. I was there the night we opened the first store,” he said. “We helped stock the shelves.”

“Our office, we were in the back of an old, empty shopping mall,” he added later, contrasting those conditions with that of Solyndra, the solar energy company that the Obama administration provided more than $500 million to before it went bankrupt. “And our chairs were Naugahyde chairs with, with an old table that we used as the board table…It was the private sector and we were pulling ourselves up in some respects by our boot straps, we were careful.”

During the rally, Romney also sought to downplay any ambition he’s had for the presidency. The comments came several hours after Newt Gingrich called such rhetoric “pious baloney.”

“I have to tell you: This chance to run for President of the United States, I never imagined I’d do it,” Romney said. “This is just a very strange and unusual thing to be in the middle of. But one of the, I mean, I was just a high school kid like everybody else with skinny legs.”

“Somehow I backed into the chance to do this,” added Romney, who ran for US Senate in 1994, governor in 2002, and president in 2008.

Romney was joined by a full family contingent – three sons, two daughters-in-law and five grandchildren, as well as his wife, Ann, were on stage with him. He repeatedly returned to themes of his outside experience.

“There’s nothing wrong with spending your entire life in politics, but it’s kind of a bubble and outside that bubble is where I’ve lived my first, I don’t know, 25, 30, 40 years of my career,” Romney said. “And I’ve learned what it’s like to sign the front of a paycheck and not just the back of a paycheck and to know how frightening it is to see whether you can make payroll at the end of the week.”

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

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