In South Carolina, Romney defends record at equity firm Bain

GREER, South Carolina Thu Jan 12, 2012 6:59pm EST

Mitt Romney greets supporters during a campaign stop at Cherokee Trikes and More in Greer, South Carolina January 12, 2012.   REUTERS/Brian Snyder

Mitt Romney greets supporters during a campaign stop at Cherokee Trikes and More in Greer, South Carolina January 12, 2012.

Credit: Reuters/Brian Snyder

GREER, South Carolina (Reuters) - Republican front-runner Mitt Romney defended his leadership on Thursday of a private equity firm at the center of a raging campaign battle in South Carolina over whether while its chief executive he was a job killer.

Romney is facing attack ads from rival Newt Gingrich in South Carolina over his tenure at Bain Capital, a private equity outfit that bought and restructured companies, sometimes resulting in the loss of jobs.

The objective of Gingrich along with a fellow conservative candidate, Rick Perry, is to try to stop Romney's momentum toward the 2012 Republican presidential nomination after his victories in Iowa and New Hampshire.

A victory in South Carolina on January 21 would put Romney well on his way to the nomination.

At a motorcycle dealership in Greer, South Carolina, Romney staged a news conference after a campaign event to address the issue. He said Bain helped start four companies, Staples, Bright Horizons Children's Centers, Sports Authority and Steel Dynamics that had created well over 100,000 jobs.

"A few thousand jobs" were lost from failing enterprises, he said.

"The reality is in the private sector there are some businesses that are growing and thriving and we were fortunate enough to be part of that in a small way, and there are some businesses that have to be cut back in order to survive and try to make them stronger."

"And sometimes you're successful with that and sometimes you're not," he said.

The Bain charges, if they stick, could damage Romney's ability to sell himself as a former executive with more experience in creating jobs than his Republican rivals or than Democratic President Barack Obama, whom he hopes to challenge for the White House this November.

"I think people want to see a hands-on. 'get-the-job-done' leader and I've demonstrated that," he said.

Bain is only one potential minefield for Romney as he seeks to make it three wins in a row in South Carolina -- and as his conservative rivals try to stop him.

Another problem for Romney is his stand on abortion. He is facing criticism of changing his position from in favor of a woman's right to choose whether to have an abortion to opposing the procedure.

To stress that point, Romney made a point of mentioning his desire to preserve "life" three times in his speech to a crowd at the motorcycle shop.

"I understand that there are some attack ads coming my way that question that, and obviously it's important for me to remind people that I'm pro-life," he told reporters later.

(Editing by Philip Barbara)