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Romney rebuts opponents’ attacks

Signaling concern within Mitt Romney’s campaign that the attacks on his private-sector experience are beginning to take their toll, the Republican front-runner stepped up his defense Thursday of his career at a private equity firm, as prominent GOP leaders chided his rivals for ganging up on him.

Battling an effort by his opponents and an independent group backing former House Speaker Newt Gingrich to portray him as a former “corporate raider” who relentlessly pursued profits even if that meant layoffs at the companies his firm controlled, Romney attempted to shift attention to the success stories of Bain Capital.

He argued that companies Bain invested in, such as Staples, Bright Horizons Children’s Centers, the Sports Authority and Steel Dynamics, added a total of more than 100,000 jobs.

“There are some businesses that are growing and thriving ... [and] there’s some businesses that have to be cut back in order to survive,” Romney told reporters after a rally at a motorcycle manufacturer in Greer, S.C. He rebuffed accusations that he had been focused solely on short-term gains, insisting that the private equity firm’s goal was to generate a return for shareholders and “see more employment.”

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But after several days in which Texas Gov. Rick Perry has hammered Romney for South Carolina job losses at two enterprises that Bain controlled, the steel company GS Industries and the Holson Burnes Group photo album company, Romney was pressed to speak directly about state residents laid off as a result of Bain’s actions decades ago.

“Any time a job is lost it’s a tragedy,” Romney said. “For the family, for the individual that loses a job, it’s just devastating. And every time that we invested in a business [at Bain], it was to try and encourage that business to have ongoing life.”

The scorching tone of the fight among the GOP candidates is beginning to unnerve certain prominent Republicans, including some who have avoided taking sides in the presidential primary, such as South Carolina Sen. Jim DeMint, former New York Mayor Rudolph W. Giuliani and former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee.

Giuliani said he was “shocked” by the GOP attacks on Romney. “I’m going to say it’s ignorant. Dumb,” Giuliani said on Fox News. “It’s building something we should be fighting -- ignorance of the American economic system.”

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Thomas Donohue, who heads the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, said he was disappointed by the tone of Republican contenders who have piled on Romney: “We think Romney has had a pretty good track record. Perfect? Hell, no, but damn good.”

The “super PAC” backing Gingrich, called Winning Our Future, has promised a “strong and sustained” campaign in South Carolina attacking Romney’s career at Bain. The committee is running ads directing voters to a film condemning Romney’s actions at Bain by focusing on four companies the firm acquired at least a decade ago.

In two appearances in South Carolina, Gingrich did not bring up his criticisms of Romney’s role at Bain. After one, Gingrich declined to answer questions on the subject. But Perry, who is fighting to salvage his struggling campaign in the state’s Jan. 21 primary, did not back off.

Speaking at a restaurant north of Columbia, the state capital, Perry left out his “vulture capitalist” attack from earlier this week. But in a confrontational interview with Fox News he contended that he was not criticizing the free market or even venture capitalists, but specifically Bain Capital.

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“We’re trying to lure more venture capitalists into my home state every day,” Perry said, “but the idea that you get private equity companies to come in and, you know, take companies apart so they can make quick profits and then people lose their jobs, I don’t think that’s what America’s looking for. I hope that’s not what the Republican Party’s about.”

Former Pennsylvania Sen. Rick Santorum and former Utah Gov. Jon Huntsman Jr. have been softer in their criticism of Romney than Gingrich and Perry. Santorum on Thursday accused President Obama of showering entitlements on some sectors of society at the expense of others.

“When government takes control and starts picking winners and losers ... then we end up not redistributing wealth, we end up redistributing poverty,” Santorum said in Beaufort, S.C.

Huntsman’s service as Obama’s ambassador to China has alienated him from many Republican primary voters, but he argued during an appearance on Daniel Island, in the Charleston area, that that aspect of his resume, among others, made him well suited to tackle partisan gridlock in Washington.

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“We have to remember that we are Americans, first and foremost,” he said at a GOP breakfast. “We’re not going to be able to solve our long-term problems in this country until we come together as Americans.”

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maeve.reston@latimes.com

john.hoeffel@latimes.com

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alana.semuels@latimes.com


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