Greer, South Carolina (CNN) - Former Utah Gov. Jon Huntsman signaled Monday that he intends to sharpen his campaign message against former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney, the front-runner in the Republican presidential race and the candidate Huntsman's team views as his chief rival in the nomination fight.
Campaigning at a barbecue restaurant in South Carolina, Huntsman criticized Romney directly, though not by name. It's a tactic he has largely shied away from until now.
Huntsman, debuting a new line, questioned Romney's record on job creation while serving in Massachusetts and contrasted it with his own resume.
"When you look at the absolute increases in job creation, Utah led the way in the United States in terms of job creation," he said. "That, compared and contrasted with certain other states like Massachusetts, which I will just pull out randomly, not first, but 47th."
Moments earlier, he said: "Some are running from their record. I am running on my record. Take a look at what we have done."
The decision to single out Massachusetts, of course, was hardly random. Romney and Huntsman are chasing after overlapping voter and donor bases - particularly in New Hampshire, the crucial leadoff primary state where both campaigns are planting a flag.
Huntsman, still lagging in the polls, must begin to raise questions about Romney's record if he hopes to overtake the front-runner.
On Monday, he said his record on health care and tax cuts stands out compared to other former governors in the race like Romney and former Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty.
"I am here to tell you, as you evaluate and look at the candidates, simply analyze where it is they have been and what they have done and what kind of achievements they have to show from their time as a chief executive, and whether it is has applicability nationwide," Huntsman urged the South Carolina crowd of about 200 voters, including several local GOP leaders and activists.
Following his remarks, Huntsman told reporters that he plans to step up his criticism of Romney.
"We are just new to the race and we have been about three weeks and we are going to get out and talk about our record and how it might compare and contrast with others," he said. "I think that's a perfectly legitimate thing to be doing at this point in the race."
Huntsman and his family are making a two-day swing through South Carolina, another key primary state in the campaign's nomination strategy.
On Tuesday, Huntsman plans to roll out a high-profile endorsement in Greenville. He also has a series of private meetings planned with political and business leaders in the area.
UPDATE: The Romney campaign brushed off the criticism.
"Mitt Romney created nearly 50,000 jobs as governor of Massachusetts and led his state to one of the most dramatic job market turnarounds in the country," said Romney spokesman Ryan Williams. "He is proud to compare his accomplishments with President Obama's failed economic policies and disgraceful job creation record."