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Romney Targets Obama On 'You Didn't Build That'

The Romney campaign held 24 events around the country Wednesday in which small business owners talked about their businesses. So just how can the government help or hurt entrepreneurs?

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Transcript

AUDIE CORNISH, HOST:

Mitt Romney's campaign thinks it's found a powerful weapon in a snippet from one of President Obama's speeches. You've probably heard it in some form lots of time. In a few minutes, we'll listen to exactly what the president said in context. But the brief that the Romney campaign is focused on is this:

(SOUNDBITE OF SPEECH)

PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA: If you've got a business that - you didn't build that.

CORNISH: Today, the Romney campaign is hosting two dozen events in swing states based on those nine words. Here's a sample. It's businessman Harold Baldwin, the owner of Secure Care Products, speaking today in Concord, New Hampshire.

(SOUNDBITE OF SPEECH)

HAROLD BALDWIN: Through hard work of our employees, my partners and myself, a lot of determination and long hours, we grew from two employees to 65 employees today. This growth was accomplished without any financial assistance from the federal government.

CORNISH: Joining us to talk more about this is NPR's Scott Horsley. And, Scott, the Romney campaign has been beating this drum for over a week now. They must feel like they're hitting a nerve.

SCOTT HORSLEY, BYLINE: They do, Audie. Mitt Romney started talking about this at rallies last week, and they had a really strong feedback from business owners in the audience. Some of those business people took visceral exception to the suggestion from the Romney campaign that Mr. Obama doesn't think small business owners deserve credit for what they've built. In addition to talking about this at live events, the campaigns released a TV ad featuring another New Hampshire businessman Jack Gilchrist in which he challenges that premise.

(SOUNDBITE OF CAMPAIGN AD)

JACK GILCHRIST: My father's hands didn't build this company? My hands didn't build this company? My son's hands aren't building this company?

CORNISH: But I understand there's more to Gilchrist's story.

HORSLEY: Yeah, I was actually at the Gilchrist metal fabricating plant last September. That's actually where Jon Huntsman unveiled his jobs plan, and it's a neat company. They pay good wages. They have good benefits for their employees. But it's not entirely self-made by Gilchrist and his family. The Union Leader newspaper, not exactly a liberal rag, has pointed out Gilchrist was the beneficiary of tax exempt revenue bonds to help finance a factory. The company also got a loan from the Small Business Administration, and they've gotten contracts from the Navy and the Coast Guard totaling about $90,000 last year.

CORNISH: Now, what about some of the other business people Romney is spotlighting? I mean, have they gotten government help too?

HORSLEY: Yes. For example, Secure Care Products, the company we heard from at the beginning of this story, has received hundreds of thousands of dollars in business from the federal government, much of that from the veteran's administration. They've also gotten help from the government in exporting some of their products, and exports have been a growth area for the company. I checked out some of the other firms. There's Applegate Insulation in Michigan. They note on their website that customers may be eligible for tax incentives if they install their product.

There's a company in Virginia, a franchise company, Home Instead, that provides in-home care for the elderly. The franchising company points out on its website that the president's health care law included measures to help support that. The point here is not that these business people got some sort of handout or don't deserve credit for the companies they've built, but simply that most businesses in the United States benefit in one way or another from government services. And that's not even counting the sort of big infrastructure of roads and bridges and public education that the government backs.

CORNISH: So how has the Obama campaign been responding to this?

HORSLEY: Well, they do clearly think that the Romney campaigns hit a nerve. They released a sort of defensive ad in which the president reaffirms his support for small businesses and says the government needs to support it. But what we're really seeing here is two very different world views, Audie. The president believes government can be a partner in helping businesses. Mitt Romney prefers to label government a drag on business.

CORNISH: NPR's Scott Horsley. Scott, thank you so much.

HORSLEY: My pleasure.

CORNISH: And now, let's take a listen to a longer portion of the speech by President Obama, which stirred up all this fuss. This excerpt begins just after the president has spoken about wealthy, successful Americans who, as he says, want to give back, implying that they'll accept higher taxes.

(SOUNDBITE OF SPEECH)

OBAMA: If you've been successful, you didn't get there on your own. You didn't get there on your own. I'm always struck by people who think, well, they must be because I was just so smart. There are a lot of smart people out there. It must be because I worked harder than everybody else. Let me tell you something, there are a whole bunch of hardworking people out there.

(APPLAUSE)

OBAMA: If you were successful, somebody along the line gave you some help. There was a great teacher somewhere in your life. Somebody helped to create this unbelievable American system that we have that allowed you to thrive. Somebody invested in roads and bridges. If you've got a business, that - you didn't build that. Somebody else made that happen. The Internet didn't get invented on its own. Government research created the Internet so that all the companies could make money off the Internet. The point is that, when we succeed, we succeed because our individual initiatives, but also because we do things together.

CORNISH: An excerpt there of President Obama's speech July 13th in Roanoke, Virginia, a speech we're likely to hear a lot more about from the Romney campaign.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC) Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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