FORTUNE — Bain isn’t a dirty word for Republican Party delegates here in Tampa. It’s the reason they’re nominating Mitt Romney for president.
“The Bain stuff is far more compelling than being governor of Massachusetts,” explains John McCutcheon, a Romney delegate from West Virginia. “It means that he knows how to set goals and then achieve them, how to be decisive and not equivocate. It’s what we need in a leader.”
Most delegates I spoke with today agreed with McCutcheon, while a minority argued that Romney’s private and public-sector experience deserved equal weight. None said that their support was primarily based on Romney’s political background, including certain members of the Massachusetts delegation.
Over and over I heard about how Romney will be able to help revive the economy because he understands how businesses really operate, while his November opponent has never had to meet a private payroll. I heard that Romney “built that business” on his own and that he’ll understand when government needs to be involved and when it needs to get out of the way.
On that last point, no delegates had difficulties reconciling Romney’s pledge to reduce government with private equity’s hands-on reputation. “He understands how free markets function,” explained Ellen Sauerbrey, twice a GOP gubernatorial candidate in Maryland.
As for what Romney actually did at Bain Capital, every delegate told me the exact same thing: He took failing businesses and tried to turn them around.
No mention of companies that Romney helped start at Bain, such as Staples (SPLS). No mention of the strong companies that Bain invested in, for the purpose of making them incrementally stronger. No mention of the failed companies, save for a few “you win some, you lose some” bromides. Certainly no talk about how Bain managed to profit off of companies that it was unable to “save,” or that Bain itself may have contributed to their failures.
Many delegates also said that Romney and his surrogates should go out of its way to further highlight the candidate’s Bain Capital experience, rather than what they saw as a tendency to downplay it. Stephen Lambeth of Georgia even suggested that Romney’s campaign publish a list of deals he did while with Bain, and how many jobs were created at each one (for the record, Bain doesn’t keep such jobs data].
In fact, the only negative comment related to Bain came from Beatrice Kehr, president of the Minnesota Federation of Republican Women. The future of American business wasn’t Kehr’s primary concern — that would be guns — but she did express some worry about how Romney had “a lot of international experience and connections” related to Bain portfolio companies. “I think he needs to explain that more,” she added.
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