JUDY WOODRUFF: The Republican presidential front-runner, campaigning in South Carolina, stepped up his defense against fellow GOP attacks on his record in business, this as the political wars intensified on the state's television airwaves.
NARRATOR: Mitt Romney helped create and ran a company that invested in struggling businesses, grew new ones, and rebuilt old ones, creating thousands of jobs. Those are the facts.
JUDY WOODRUFF: That TV commercial began airing as Mitt Romney campaigned across South Carolina today. It's a full-throated defense of his time running a private equity firm, and an effort to rebuke rivals who've painted him as a corporate raider.
NARRATOR: We expected the Obama administration to put free markets on trial, but, as The Wall Street Journal said, Mr. Romney's GOP opponents are embarrassing themselves by taking the Obama line.
JUDY WOODRUFF: Indeed, the attacks by Rick Perry and Newt Gingrich in particular have drawn disapproval this week from voices inside and outside the Republican Party.
But a group backing Gingrich, Winning Our Future, aired its own ad in South Carolina on Romney's tenure at Bain Capital in the 1980s and '90s.
NARRATOR: Mitt Romney became CEO of Bain Capital the day the company was formed.
WOMAN: They fire people. They cut benefits. They sell assets.
MAN: Mitt Romney, them guys, they don't care who I am.
WOMAN: Let's look deeper in his life. What did he do when he was the CEO of this holding company?
JUDY WOODRUFF: This morning, a Washington Post fact-checker dubbed that ad highly misleading, and Gingrich urged Winning Our Future to fix the spot and the film it's based on.
NEWT GINGRICH (R): I'm calling on them to either edit every single mistake or pull the entire film, but to not run the film if it has errors in it, because I think we ought to have -- somebody who wants to be president ought to have the courage to stand up for the truth and ought be prepared to say, if something is wrong, that it's wrong.
JUDY WOODRUFF: Some of Romney's competitors either backed off their Bain critiques or pivoted to other lines of attack.
Former Pennsylvania Sen. Rick Santorum said Romney's real problem is an inability to connect with voters.
RICK SANTORUM (R): I don't criticize and I won't criticize his work at Bain Capital. It was -- I believe in capitalism. I believe in free enterprise. And private equity firms are a very important and vital part of the free market system in this country.
But that doesn't necessarily mean that you want your boss running for president.
JUDY WOODRUFF: Former Utah Gov. Jon Huntsman also accused Romney of being out of touch at a South Carolina stop on Thursday.
JON HUNTSMAN (R): When you have that candidate who talks about enjoyment in firing about people, who talks about pink slips, who makes comments that seem to be -- seemed to be so detached from the problems that Americans are facing today, that makes you pretty much unelectable.
JUDY WOODRUFF: And Perry, the Texas governor, didn't repeat his vulture capitalism line during a morning stop in Hilton Head. He did say his opponents all speak for Wall Street or Washington.
GOV. RICK PERRY, R-Texas: We need a conservative outsider who has consistently balanced budgets, cut spending, not these Washington insiders who voted to increase our debt and our deficits.
JUDY WOODRUFF: And for the second day in a row, Texas Congressman Ron Paul held no public campaign events.
But the Obama reelection team did wade into the Bain debate with a memo that said: "Romney's overwrought response to questions about Bain is just an attempt to evade legitimate scrutiny of the record on which he says he's running."
Meanwhile, as the Republican contenders gauged how to blunt Romney's momentum, social conservative leaders planned to meet in Texas this weekend. They'll discuss the possibility of uniting behind someone other than the former Massachusetts governor.
Late today, a federal judge in Virginia refused to add four of the Republicans, Perry, Gingrich, Santorum and Huntsman, to the primary ballot in Virginia. He ruled that they did not submit the required number of signatures on petitions.