Mitt Romney has tried to portray himself as a regular guy in campaign speeches and meet-and-greet events with voters but his penchant for gaffes has undermined the effort, which Democrats plan to exploit in a general-election match-up.

His remark Monday that he likes to be able “fire people” is the latest awkward statement that will haunt him if he wins the GOP nomination.

Democrats on Monday described the statement as one of several “silver bullets” they plan to use in the summer and fall if Romney becomes the Republican nominee.

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They hope to turn him into a caricature of a greedy capitalist — a Monty Burns with better hair and a stronger jaw.

“It’s going to be absolutely huge,” one labor official said of the planned advertising assault.

Conservatives see the attacks coming, and some pundits question whether Romney would be the strongest nominee, given his record at Bain Capital and the ammunition it gives Democrats

“I am … continually surprised that anyone in the GOP thinks Mitt Romney is a really viable candidate,” Erick Erickson, the editor of RedState.com, wrote last month. “Should he be the nominee, the American public will be treated to interviews and commercials with every person ever fired or laid off because of Bain Capital, an organization from which Mitt Romney still draws money.”

Although Romney was talking Monday about the value of consumer choice in the healthcare market, his phrasing plays right into the Democratic campaign strategy of 2012: running against the wealthiest 1 percent of America.

The Senate Democratic strategy for this year is to force Republicans to vote repeatedly against proposals to raise taxes on millionaires to pay for various jobs initiatives, such as extending the payroll tax holiday for a full year.

Democratic political strategists expect labor unions and liberal advocacy groups to spend millions highlighting Romney’s record as Bain’s CEO, where he compiled a record of restructuring companies — and often laying off workers.

“I like being able to fire people who provide services to me,” Romney told executives from the Nashua Greater Chamber of Commerce on Monday. “You know, if someone doesn’t give me the good service I need, I want to say, ‘You know, I’m going to get someone else to provide this service to me.’ ”

The comment came a day after Romney told New Hampshire voters he knows what it’s like to fear getting a “pink slip.”

“I know what it’s like to worry whether you’re gonna get fired,” Romney said Sunday.

Democratic National Committee Chairwoman Debbie Wasserman Schultz (D-Fla.) promptly scheduled a press call to denounce Romney’s statement and highlight other remarks Democrats plan to use as ammo later this year.

“We’re against making light of pink slips, joking that he too has been unemployed when he’s worth $200 million and saying he likes firing people,” said Wasserman Schultz. “There’s something fundamentally wrong when you’re creating wealth on the backs of American workers by laying them off and shipping their jobs overseas.”

Democrats say it’s absurd for Romney to claim he ever feared getting fired, citing a 2007 Boston Globe report that revealed he negotiated a contract to take over as CEO as Bain Capital that ensured he would not get fired.

The DNC conference call featured Randy Johnson, a labor organizer and former employee of American Pad and Paper who lost his factory job in Indiana after Bain Capital took over the company.

While laying the groundwork for his presidential campaign, Romney joked to a group of out-of-work voters Floridians last year that he was also unemployed.

Romney’s campaign fired back, arguing the quote has been taken out of context. A campaign spokeswoman said he was defending consumer choice in the marketplace of healthcare providers.

"Democrats will distort and misrepresent anything to distract voters from President Obama's failure to create jobs,” said Andrea Saul, Romney’s spokeswoman.

“Mitt Romney is the one candidate with first-hand knowledge of the real economy and a record of job creation that stands in direct contrast to our current president, who is clearly in over his head," she said.

But Romney’s wording gave his opponents an opening, and even his Republican rivals exploited it.

Texas Gov. Rick Perry’s (R) campaign encouraged supporters to download what it dubbed the Real Romney Ringtone from its website, a looped repetition of “I like being able to fire people.”

By comparing his own political travails to the hardships of regular Americans, Romney sounded a dissonant tone similar to when he claimed in 2007 that his sons’ work on his campaign entailed national service, drawing an implicit comparison to military enlistees.

Democrats will also seize on Romney’s claim in August while campaigning in Des Moines, Iowa, that “corporations are people.”

“Mitt Romney has a long track record of both saying and doing things that show he’s Mr. 1 Percent,” said Mike Lux, a Democratic strategist advising a labor coalition that will be active in the general election. “His whole life is about being Mr. 1 Percent. Saying 'corporations are people too' and 'I like to fire people.'

“This guy is the ultimate Wall Street Insider,” Lux said.

Rodell Mollineau, president of American Bridge 21st Century, a Democratic super-PAC focused on researching the records of Republican politicians, said Romney’s comments would play center stage in the general campaign.

“Every other day he says something so out of touch with middle-class values. We have a Tommy-gun assault of silver bullets — his jokes about being unemployed himself, that corporations are people and worrying about a pink slip,” he said.