Picture the words "Bain Capital." What's the first thing you feel, honestly? Delight? Disgust? Dread? Your answer says something not just about you but also about the influence of campaign messages.

Bain is, of course, the investment firm that presidential contender Mitt Romney ran for a decade and a half, give or take. It constitutes the block of his rsum that has caused him the most grief, for its profit-seeking nature.

Romney, on the other hand, has presented his Bain experience as evidence that he is a skilled manager. So the question naturally arises: Can we find out if he was?

In a post at his blog "The Big Picture," Barry Ritholtz -- citing analysis by two Wall Street Journal reporters -- considers Bain's performance under Romney's leadership from 1984 to 1998 and concludes that it "was rather unremarkable."

In short, the firm engaged in "the same sins most of Wall Street committed: Too high leverage, too much risk [and] excessive fees" in order achieve "essentially market-level rates of return" during a boom.

If that's what it takes just to keep pace, it might fairly be asked if leverage (in the form of deficit spending), risk (government programs or subsidies) and fees (taxes) will be available tools under Romney's plan for the country as stated.

If not, he should be spending more time emphasizing his successful financial rescue of the 2002 Olympics -- although federal funds were vital to that effort.


David Banks is the Star Tribune's commentary editor.