Greenville, South Carolina (CNN) - The day after former Utah Gov. Jon Huntsman opened up a new line of attack against his Republican presidential rival Mitt Romney, the Huntsman campaign stayed on offense, calling the former Massachusetts governor's track record on job creation "abysmal by every standard."
The sharp statement from a Huntsman spokesman was sparked by the Romney campaign's defense of his jobs record in Massachusetts, which has come under attack in recent days by Democrats, and now Huntsman.
Romney has made jobs and the economy the central themes of his campaign, but his critics have made hay of the fact that Massachusetts ranked, by one measure, a dismal 47th in job creation during his administration.
Huntsman openly questioned the Romney resume on Monday night and accused the GOP frontrunner of trying to run away from his jobs record. Huntsman pointed out that Utah under his leadership ranked first in job creation during the same period.
The Romney campaign's response: Unemployment in Massachusetts actually dropped during the governor's tenure.
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," campaign spokesman Ryan Williams told CNN Monday in response to Huntsman's criticisms.
Then came the tough response from Huntsman's team the next morning.
"You know your job creation record is bad when you brag about leapfrogging a state ravaged by Hurricane Katrina," Huntsman spokesman Tim Miller said in statement. "Gov. Huntsman will run on his record of cutting taxes, reducing regulation, and passing free market health care which resulted in Utah becoming the #1 state for job creation. We assume Mitt Romney will continue to run away from his record."
The candidate, though, would not match his campaign's tough rhetoric when asked about the statement Tuesday at a press conference in South Carolina, where he picked up endorsements from the family of the late former Gov. Carroll Campbell.
Huntsman was asked by a reporter if he believed that Romney's record on jobs was indeed "abysmal."
"Forty-seventh is forty-seventh," he said tersely. "First is first. So you know, just let the facts speak for themselves."