(CNN) – Former President Bill Clinton, a stalwart backer of President Barack Obama who's already helped the incumbent Democrat raise funds for his re-election bid, said Thursday that Mitt Romney had a "sterling business career" as chief executive of Bain Capital.
That record, while qualifying him to be president, won't necessarily help him win, Clinton said in an interview on CNN's "Piers Morgan Tonight.'
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"I don't think that we ought to get into the position where we say 'This is bad work. This is good work,'" Clinton said of the private equity industry. Democrats have been hammering Romney for his role at Bain Capital for weeks, painting the GOP presidential candidate as a corporate raider. In justifying their attacks, Democrats point out Romney uses his Bain record as evidence of creating jobs.
On Thursday, Clinton said Romney's record at Bain was less important than his ideas for the country.
"I think the real issue ought to be, what has Governor Romney advocated in the campaign that he will do as president?" Clinton said. "What has President Obama done and what does he propose to do? How do these things stack up against each other?"
Clinton said there was no question Romney was capable of performing the "essential functions of the office."
"The man who has been governor and had a sterling business career crosses the qualification threshold," Clinton said.
Unlike some fellow Democrats, Clinton acknowledged Romney's time at Bain Capital formed a "good business career." He also acknowledged that the nature of private equity meant some companies inevitably fail.
"There is a lot of controversy about that," Clinton told guest host Harvey Weinstein, who has raised millions of dollars for Obama's campaign. "But if you go in and you try to save a failing company, and you and I have friends here who invest in companies, you can invest in a company, run up the debt, loot it, sell all the assets, and force all the people to lose their retirement and fire them."
The former president continued, "Or you can go into a company, have cutbacks, try to make it more productive with the purpose of saving it. And when you try, like anything else you try, you don't always succeed."
While Clinton is not the first Democrat to defend Bain amid political attacks, he is the highest profile. In May Newark, New Jersey Mayor Cory Booker said he didn't want to "indict private equity," saying attacks on Romney's tenure didn't take into account the successes the company had. And on Thursday, current Massachusetts Gov. Deval Patrick called Bain "a perfectly fine company."
Clinton said November's general election, while close, would ultimately tilt for the Democratic incumbent.
"I still think the president will win by five or six points. I've always thought so," Clinton said, noting current economic conditions were driving down support for Obama in current polls.
"Still people feel uncertain," he said. "You know, when you've got a lot of people getting up in the morning, looking in the mirror, starting the day thinking 'They have failed,' that's a problem. And I think those of us who support the president have to get out there and explain what he did in rescuing the automobile industry, what he did in raising the mileage standards and the way they created 150,000 jobs."
If Obama's supporters can get that message out, Clinton said, "I think he will be just fine. And I think he will be re-elected."