COLUMBIA, S.C. (AP) — Two of Mitt Romney’s rivals said Sunday the GOP front-runner needed to better respond now to criticism of his record at a private equity firm or face unrelenting attacks on the issue from President Barack Obama if he were the party’s nominee.
Romney was taking a rare day off from campaigning while his challengers focused on the South Carolina coast in hopes of slowing the former Massachusetts governor’s momentum before next Saturday’s first-in-the-South primary.
Former Pennsylvania Sen. Rick Santorum, Texas Gov. Rick Perry and former House Speaker Newt Gingrich appeared on national talk shows and headed to church.
With the Florida contest Jan. 31, Romney’s opponents are under great pressure to alter the trajectory of the race after his victories in Iowa and New Hampshire.
Gingrich and Perry used their broadcast interviews to raise questions about Romney’s leadership of the Bain Capital venture firm.
Romney’s campaign claims that Romney was a creator of more than 100,000 jobs while heading up Bain. But the campaign cites success stories without laying out the other side — jobs lost at Bain-acquired or Bain-supported firms that closed, trimmed their workforce or shifted employment overseas.
Gingrich said questions about Bain were fair game and a source of vulnerability for Romney, who has made his experience in the business world a top selling point for his candidacy.
“It’s fair to raise the questions now, get them out of the way now to make sure that whoever we nominate is clear enough, public enough, accountable enough that they can withstand the Obama onslaught,” Gingrich told CBS’ “Face the Nation.”
Perry suggested Obama’s team was eager to attack Romney over his Bain tenure.
“If this is a fatal flaw we need to be talking about it now, not talking about it in September and October,” Perry said on CNN’s “State of the Union.”
“The issue is not going to go away and it’s not like we’ve cracked an egg open here for the first time.”
Polls show Romney leading the race in a state where the stakes are high. South Carolina historically has voted for the Republican candidate who eventually won the party’s nomination.
Texas Rep. Ron Paul was returning to campaigning for the first time since Wednesday. He has spent several days at home in Texas after his second-place finish in the New Hampshire primary last week.
(© Copyright 2012 The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.)