As reporters and Mitt Romney supporters filed outside the gymnasium where the former Massachusetts governor had led a raucous rally ahead of the primary here Tuesday, Randy Johnson, a stooped and bearded man in late middle age, stood silently to the side and watched. Nearby, an operative with the Democratic National Committee directed reporters to him, where one by one, Mr. Johnson told them his story.
The 57-year-old described how he worked at a factory making office supplies owned by Smith Corona, which facing bankruptcy, sold his plant to another company, Ampad, that has recently been acquired by Bain Capital. Ampad promptly fired all of the workers at the plant, and then re-hired most of them. Since they were a union shop, and over half of the employees had been re-hired, the new owners were forced to recognize the union. They tried to renegotiate the contract, but the union eventually decided to go on strike, so Ampad shuttered the once-profitable factory.
It was the heat of Mr. Romney’s 1994 campaign for U.S. Senate against Ted Kennedy. Mr. Johnson and some of his fellow laid-off workers traveled to Massachusetts to confront him. Mr. Kennedy and the papers picked up their story. After the campaign, and after the plant had been shuttered for good, Mr. Johnson received a letter from Mr. Romney telling him that he hoped he hadn’t been misled by his union and by the Kennedy campaign.
He sat out the 2008 race, but now Mr. Johnson is planning to travel around the country, and wait patiently on the side of Mitt Romney’s campaign events, prepared to tell his story to anyone who wants to listen.
“He is ‘the job creator’ and he tells us how he does it,” Mr. Johnson said. “I haven’t seen anything where he works in shop, has been a manager of a shop. He has only worked for Bain. He’s a CEO. Don’t tell me you are a job creator when what you created were mostly low-wage part-time jobs with no benefits when we had something we could support our families on.”
Mr. Johnson said he has been to five Romney events so far this year, and has spoken at union halls and on talk radio “to anyone who will listen.”
He had to relocate from Indiana to Pittsburgh and is taken leave from a job at the steelworker’s union there.
“I’m being honest. The guy is running on his record. I’m just filling out his record. I wish he had done something. I really do.”
The DNC, he says, pays for his flights and for a hotel room, and he needled the DNC operative following him around for making him pay for tolls and buy lunch as they travelled around New Hampshire.
“You can tell this guy is really high-ranking, right?” he said.
He said he can barely watch Mr. Romney on TV.
“I saw something the other day where he said it was his dream to run for president. For most of us, the dream was just to get to retirement. I understand making money, but at what expense?”