KEENE, N.H. – The presidential campaign debate over Republican Mitt Romney's tenure at a private equity firm is going down the drain.
Vice President Joe Biden argued Tuesday that Romney's experience doesn't make him any more qualified to be president than it does to make him a plumber.
"That doesn't mean that private equity guys are bad guys — they're not," Biden said at New Hampshire's Keene State College. "But that no more qualifies you to be president than being a plumber. And, by the way, there're an awful lot of smart plumbers. All kidding aside, it's not the same job requirement."
Romney argues that his business experience with the Boston-based firm Bain Capital makes him best suited to fix the economy and create jobs.
Biden's fourth trip to New Hampshire this year was an acknowledgment of the state's battleground status in the upcoming election.
Though he briefly criticized Romney on social issues such as contraception and touched on Romney's lack of foreign policy experience, most of his speech was devoted to echoing what Obama has been saying this week — that Romney's success making money for investors at Bain Capital is not reason alone to be elected president.
The Romney campaign has called such criticism a distraction, an affront to free markets and a misreading of the firm's success. The campaign released a Web video last week featuring workers from an Indiana company that benefited from Bain's involvement.
Democrats have been focusing on the companies that Bain took over only to close them or let them fail. In addition to running ads and Web videos, the Obama campaign has been sending Biden to battleground states to press the issue.
In New Hampshire, Biden argued that when companies fail, it costs taxpayers in unemployment benefits and costs businesses that end up paying into a fund that helps laid-off workers recover their pensions. Like Obama, however, Biden stopped short of criticizing profit-making in general.
"That's their job. It's legitimate. But folks, making money regardless of the consequences for the workers at the companies they acquire or the communities that get wasted is another question," he said.
Biden said voters have an easy choice between what he described as the Obama administration's "commonsense approach" to a Republican philosophy that he asserted advocates "no rules for the big guys" and "no accountability when the fail."
"We will not go back to the '50s on social policy, to the Cold War on foreign policy, and the policies of our last administration on our economic policies," he said. "We will not do it their way again."
Biden said the economy is recovering, pointing to a chart showing job growth during Obama's tenure as president.
"That doesn't mean a lot of people aren't still hurting, and we're determined to change that," he said. "We've made important progress, but there's much more to do. But progress you can measure, just look at the chart. Progress that cannot be denied. Progress you can see."
The Romney campaign dismissed Biden's argument.
"Vice President Biden today claimed the Obama administration's economic progress 'cannot be denied,'" Romney campaign spokeswoman Andrea Saul said in a statement. "He must not be talking to the millions of Americans who are suffering from declining incomes, fewer jobs and skyrocketing household costs in the Obama economy."