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Romney begins pushing back against Bain attacks

WASHINGTON, DC -- Mitt Romney ended his silence in the face of Democratic attacks on his career at Bain Capital, moving Wednesday to counter attacks on his private sector record and describe how they qualify him to be president.

In interviews and campaign trail appearances on Wednesday, Romney sought to push back on the scrutiny, led by President Obama, that casts Romney's time as Bain as driven by little more than the pursuit of profit, sometimes at the expense of workers.

"My whole life has been learning to lead, from my parents, to my education, to the experience I had in the private sector, to helping run the Olympics, and then of course helping guide a state. Those experiences in totality have given me an understanding of how America works and how the economy works," Romney told TIME's Mark Halperin, when asked what specifically he learned at Bain that would help him create jobs. "Twenty-five years in business, including business with other nations, competing with companies across the world, has given me an understanding of what it is that makes America a good place to grow and add jobs, and why jobs leave America –- why businesses decide to locate here, and why they decide to locate somewhere else."

"I understand, for instance, how to read a balance sheet," Romney told Halperin, in a dig at President Obama. "I happen to believe that having been in the private sector for twenty five years gives me a perspective on how jobs are created – that someone who’s never spent a day in the private sector, like President Obama, simply doesn’t understand."

Obama on Bain: 'This is what this campaign is going to be about'

The pushback followed days in which Obama and his surrogates were left virtually uncontested by Romney to make their attacks on Bain, which Romney cofounded.

The president himself called Romney's experience a central issue to the campaign, arguing that a business that stresses maximizing profits is quite different from the presidency.

Those attacks are meant at taking Romney down a notch on one of his chief advantages over Obama. Fifty-nine percent of respondents in Wednesday's NBC News/Wall Street Journal poll said Romney's business background would be either a major or minor advantage in helping improve the country's economy; the same number said the same about how it would enable Romney to bridge the federal budget deficit.

Biden: Romney no more qualified to be president than a plumber

Vice President Biden pointedly made the point on Tuesday, when he told supporters in New Hampshire that Romney's time as a CEO no more qualified him to be president than a plumber.

Today, Romney said he welcomed the focus on his record at Bain, but said he would make the president's record in office an issue of equal import.

"What is it that he’s done as the president of the United States over the last four years?" Romney said in the TIME interview. "The American people are interested in, not so much in the history of where I was at Bain Capital, or that I have understanding of the private sector, but instead, has the President made things better for the American people?"

And top Romney adviser Eric Fehrnstrom told reporters today the campaign would continue to compare Romney's economic experience to Obama's lack thereof.

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"We're happy to compare Gov. Romney's record of success, both at the statehouse in Massachusetts and as a businessman for 25 years in the private sector, to the lack of real world economy experience of President Obama," Fehrnstrom said, adding that the Romney campaign welcomed any focus on the economy, even if it came with some negative elements.

"At Bain Capital, during the period of time Mitt Romney was leading that company, Bain invested in approximately 100 companies. Many of them are big brand names that you are familiar with, like Staples and Sports Authority. And some of them were struggling and some of them could not be saved. That's the nature of our free enterprise system," Fehrnstrom said. "We like the fact that the discussion is centered on jobs and the economy and we intend to continue to talk about the plight of 23 million Americans today who are faced with either no employment or they're stuck in part time jobs when what they really want is full time work."

Until today, Romney's campaign has largely used others' words of support for Bain, and the private equity business generally, to hollow out Democratic attacks. As he opened his remarks on education before the Latino Coalition, Romney gave a nod to his odd Democrat bedfellows.

"President Obama has decided to attack success," Romney said. "It’s no wonder so many of his own supporters are calling on him to stop this war on job creators."