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Why Ron Paul is defending Mitt Romney after the 'fire people' remark

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Melanie Stetson Freeman/The Christian Science Monitor

(Read caption) Rep. Ron Paul speaks with voters in a closed gathering on a campaign swing for the republican presidential primary through Hollis, New Hampshire, Monday.

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Rep. Ron Paul, the libertarian iconoclast, and Mitt Romney, the establishment favorite, are hardly bosom buddies. So why is the Texas congressman defending the former governor of Massachusetts over a quote that other Republican candidates (and Democrats) are taking wildly out of context?

Simple: Representative Paul wants to come in second in the New Hampshire primary.

Mr. Romney is expected to win the Granite State going away. So the big news Tuesday night will be who wins the silver. Duking it out for second place are Paul and former Utah Gov. Jon Huntsman. Mr. Huntsman, in particular, has been going after Romney for saying that he “likes to fire people.” But Romney didn’t really say that.

Here’s what Romney actually said, in context: “I want individuals to have their own [health] insurance. That means the insurance company will have an incentive to keep you healthy. It also means if you don’t like what they do, you can fire them. I like being able to fire people who provide services to me.... You know, if someone doesn’t give me a good service, then I want to say, ‘I’m going to go get someone else to provide that service to me.’”

At 3:15 on Tuesday afternoon, with just a few hours until the New Hampshire polls close, the Paul campaign put out a statement on what it called a “feigned controversy.” In addition to Huntsman, it rapped the knuckles of former Pennsylvania Sen. Rick Santorum and former House Speaker Newt Gingrich for good measure.

Oh and by the way, Paul isn’t such a big fan of Romney after all. He just wants to see him treated fairly.

Rick Santorum, Jon Huntsman, and Newt Gingrich are once again proving why they are unfit to be President and why this has become a two man national race between Mitt Romney, the candidate of the status quo, and Ron Paul, the candidate of real change,” national campaign chairman Jesse Benton said in the statement.

“Two important issues that should unite Republicans are a belief in free markets and an understanding that the media often use ‘gotcha’ tactics to discredit us,” the statement continued. “Rather than run against Governor Romney on the issues of the day Santorum, Huntsman, and Gingrich have chosen to play along with the media elites and exploit a quote taken horribly out of context.”

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Mr. Benton also turned his sights on the “liberal left,” accusing the other candidates of adopting its tactics to take down another Republican.

Huntsman, Mr. Santorum, and Mr. Gingrich are doing so, Benton said, “because they can't run on their questionable records and can't distinguish themselves from Romney.”

Ford O’Connell, a Republican strategist who is neutral in the nomination race, says that Paul’s goal of placing second in New Hampshire is all about maintaining momentum heading into the contests in South Carolina and Florida – both states where he is losing ground in polls.

“If someone other than Ron Paul captures second place (i.e., Huntsman), Paul will almost completely fade from the GOP conversation,” says Mr. O’Connell in an e-mail. “For Paul, it is mostly about staying relevant.”

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