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He got some support from an unusual source — his rival Paul, who finished second in New Hampshire. The libertarian-leaning congressman from Texas said other Republican candidates were slamming Romney for market-oriented restructuring of corporations.
"I just wonder whether they’re totally ignorant of economics or whether they’re willing to demagogue just with the hopes of getting a vote or two," Paul told MSNBC on Wednesday.
Romney said his opponents sound like Obama and other Democrats attacking the free enterprise system and encouraging jealousy toward the wealthiest 1 percent of Americans. "It’s a very envy-oriented attack," he told NBC’s "Today" show.
Romney contends the criticism actually works to his benefit by highlighting the business acumen that will help him set the nation’s economy right and shrink the federal government.
TV ads are filling the South Carolina airwaves, including negative spots like a new one from Gingrich assailing Romney for switching his position on an issue that resonates strongly with evangelicals who make up the base of the GOP here.
"He governed pro-abortion," the Gingrich ad says. "Massachusetts moderate Mitt Romney: He can’t be trusted."
About $3.5 million already has been spent on TV ads in South Carolina, the bulk of it by Perry and a supportive super PAC. But that doesn’t count the $3.4 million a pro-Gingrich group has pledged to spend to go after Romney, or the $2.3 million a pro-Romney group plans to spend in the coming days. Santorum and a super PAC friendly to him also are pouring money into the state, as is an outside group working on Huntsman’s behalf.
Expect a flood of more hard-hitting commercials — primarily aimed at the front-runner — in a state known for brass-knuckled Republican politics.
For all of Romney’s challenges, the presence of a cluster of socially conservative candidates fighting to be his chief alternative could work in his favor by splitting the vote on the party’s right flank. Santorum, Gingrich, Perry and others split the faith-focused vote in Iowa. South Carolina also has a large contingent of evangelical voters, some of whom remain suspicious of Romney.
"I don’t know if we can win South Carolina," Romney said Wednesday on ABC. He added, "I know it’s an uphill battle."
South Carolina could end up being the last stop for some candidates. Perry, for one, has had back-to-back dismal showings and is looking to South Carolina to right his struggling campaign.
Gingrich, the former Georgia lawmaker, is also playing on his regional ties.
Santorum and Huntsman also have vowed to press on. Santorum wants to claim the conservative mantle; Huntsman eschews ideological labels and is selling himself as someone who can heal a polarized nation.
Associated Press writers Shannon McCaffrey and Brian Bakst in South Carolina and Connie Cass in Washington contributed to this report.
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