Rudy Giuliani and Newt Gingrich defend Mitt Romney against Bain attacks by Obama campaign

Two of Mitt Romney’s fiercest former rivals, Newt Gingrich and Rudy Giuliani, defended him Sunday against the Obama campaign’s attacks on his business record. But the Republicans’ earlier—and lingering—criticisms of the presumptive GOP nominee gave the president and his surrogates more ammunition in an ongoing battle over Romney’s economic credentials.

Giuliani, the former mayor of New York who ran against Romney in the 2008 Republican primaries, called Romney “the perfect choice for a period of time in which we have to revive the economy” during an interview on CNN.

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But reminded of his own economy-based jabs at Romney, Giuliani attributed the blows to “personal ego”—then proceeded to deliver some of them again.

“I had massive reductions in unemployment,” Giuliani said. “He had a reduction in unemployment of about 8, 10—I think it was 15 percent. I had a reduction of unemployment of 50 percent. He had a growth of jobs of about 40,000. We had a growth of jobs of about 500,000. So, I was comparing what I thought was my far superior record to his otherwise decent record.’’

The Obama campaign quickly began circulating the comments, pointing to a Politico story that called Giuliani’s interview a “Cory Booker performance.” Booker, the Democratic mayor of Newark, N.J., was accused of friendly fire last Sunday, when he criticized the president for ads that vilify Bain Capital, the private equity firm Romney led for 15 years.

Later Sunday morning, Gingrich lauded Romney’s business acumen, even predicting that it will propel him to a comfortable victory in November.

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“I think given this economy, this level of unemployment, this level of deficits, it’s very likely he will win, and I think you’ll see him pull away in September and October,” said Gingrich, who exited this year’s presidential race May 2.

But Maryland Governor Martin O’Malley, appearing alongside Gingrich on NBC’s “Meet the Press,” used the former House speaker’s previous criticisms of Romney to make a counter point.

“I agree with Speaker Gingrich during his campaign when he had to address that claim that Mitt Romney initially made that he created hundreds of thousands of jobs, a claim he eventually backed off of under the speaker’s questioning and pressing,” said O’Malley, a Democrat.

O’Malley went on to cite two of the Obama campaign’s favorite statistics: that jobs have grown in 26 consecutive months under the president and that when Romney was governor of Massachusetts, the state ranked 47th in the country in job creation.

Gingrich acknowledged that he “went straight at [Romney] on the Bain issue” but tried to draw a distinction between his attacks and Obama’s.

“I was very careful,” Gingrich said. “I didn’t go after private equity. ... He’s going after all private equity.”

The Obama campaign insists it is not “going after all private equity” but merely arguing that private equity experience does not qualify Romney to be president.

Gingrich said that argument “is going to fall flat on its face,” adding that “Obama picking a fight on the economy is probably the worst possible strategy for his campaign.”

“Bain as an issue doesn’t work because people look at it in balance, and they say, ‘Wait a second. You can pick a couple companies that lost. You can pick a lot of companies that succeeded,’ ” Gingrich said. “And as even the governor of Massachusetts said last week, it is a good company, it has a good track record, it’s a good citizen of Massachusetts.”

Massachusetts Governor Deval Patrick, a co-chairman of Obama’s reelection campaign, said last Tuesday that Bain is “not a bad company and nobody is saying they are, including the president.”