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Campaigning in Greenville, S.C., on Thursday, Mr. Romney said Bain was trying to preserve and boost companies. In some cases, that meant streamlining businesses and losing jobs.<t-4>

“The reality is in the private sector that there are some businesses that are growing and thriving, and we were fortunate enough to be able to be part of that in a small way,” he said. “And there are some businesses that have to be cut back in order to survive and to try and make them stronger. Sometimes you’re successful at that and sometimes you’re not.”

The record aside, the attacks continue.

The Democratic National Committee has challenged Mr. Romney’s claim that Bain helped spawn 100,000 jobs. In a Web video, it accuses him of “destroying the economic lives of companies, individuals and entire communities.”

Mr. Perry and Mr. Gingrich have toned down their criticisms, though both still say it’s fair to question specific instances where it appears that companies have taken advantage of the economic system.

Mr. Gingrich did not mention Mr. Romney or Bain explicitly during campaign stops Thursday in South Carolina, and Mr. Perry did not do so early in the day. But he later told the Associated Press that it was better for this issue to be aired now, rather than by President Obama in the fall.

“I don’t want to be out there defending practices that put people out of work,” he said. “My point is, if we’re going to be the party of positive job growth, we need to be really careful about creating these types of situations.”

At a stop in Summerville, S.C., Perry supporter Barbara Schimp told the governor to “lay off” the Bain attack, because it sounds anti-business. “Roger that,” the Texan said with a wink.

Mr. Romney has said that what Bain did was no different from what Mr. Obama did with General Motors Co. and Chrysler LLC when the government bailed them out but required plants and dealerships to be shut down, costing jobs.

White House spokesman Jay Carney said the administration acted in order to save the industry, which preserved most jobs, though he would not make a comparison to Mr. Romney’s time at Bain.

“I think what our action was designed to do and did do was prevent the elimination of up to 1 million jobs in the automobile industry and create a situation where that industry is now creating jobs again. So I think that’s an important story to tell,” he said.

Ironically, the political attacks seem to be helping Mr. Romney. Prominent party leaders, fundraisers and the U.S. Chamber of Commerce’s president have come to his defense, saying the criticism amounts to an attack on the free-market system.

Two of Mr. Romney’s rivals in the 2008 presidential race — former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee and former New York Mayor Rudolph W. Giuliani — criticized their fellow Republicans’ attacks.

Mr. Huckabee called it “surprising to see so many Republicans embrace that left-wing argument against capitalism,” while Mr. Giuliani said he was “shocked … I’m going to say it’s ignorant. Dumb. It’s building something we should be fighting — ignorance of the American economic system.”

Barry Wynn, a top Republican donor and investment fund executive, pulled his support from Mr. Perry and threw it behind Mr. Romney, saying the Texan’s comments went too far.

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