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Romney likens Gingrich to Al Gore over jobs claim

For much of the presidential campaign so far, Mitt Romney has tried to glide above his Republican rivals -– engaging President Obama in his stump speeches while swatting away criticism from GOP contenders.

But in sign of a tightening race in South Carolina, Romney shifted strategy during a midday rally at Wofford University Wednesday – needling GOP rival Newt Gingrich him as a lifelong politician and suggesting that he had little experience creating jobs.

Arguing that Gingrich and Obama had taken the same line of attack by criticizing his work at the private equity firm Bain Capital -– which he likes to describe as an assault on “free enterprise” -– Romney pivoted to Gingrich’s career in government and mocked job-creation claims made recently by the former House speaker.

“The speaker the other day at the debate was talking about how he created millions of jobs when he was working with the Reagan administration. Well, he’d been in Congress two years when Ronald Reagan came into office,” Romney told an enthusiastic crowd here. “That’d be like saying 435 congressmen were all responsible for those jobs. Government doesn’t create jobs. It’s the private sector that creates jobs.”

“Congressmen taking responsibility or taking credit for helping create jobs is like [former Vice President] Al Gore taking credit for the Internet,” said the former Massachusetts governor, who touted his experience as a turnaround artist in the business world and as head of the 2002 Olympic Games in Salt Lake City. “Look, you’re the guys in America that put Americans to work. Not congressmen, not even presidents. And this president’s got it entirely wrong when he attacks the private sector.”

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Romney’s comments followed a conference call organized by his campaign in which former Missouri Sen. Jim Talent and former New York Rep. Susan Molinari questioned Gingrich’s temperament and his conservative credentials -- casting him as what the Romney campaign said was an “unreliable leader.”

While Gingrich, former Pennsylvania Sen. Rick Santorum and Texas Gov. Rick Perry are all making major plays in South Carolina -- trying to slow Romney’s momentum after his wins in the early-contest states of New Hampshire and Iowa -- interviews with South Carolina voters suggest that many of them are trying to decide between Romney and Gingrich.

During a rally Wednesday in Warrenville, Gingrich called the criticism from the Romney campaign “desperate” and said it showed that his campaign is surging once again: “They thought they could buy this,” Gingrich said, referring to Romney’s robust campaign treasury, “They’re discovering they can’t.”

Seema Mehta contributed to this report from Warrenville, S.C.

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