Hudson, New Hampshire (CNN) – In response to widening attacks on his record at a private equity firm and mockery over two recent comments about firings, Mitt Romney charged his rivals with putting free enterprise "on trial" Monday.
The candidate took questions from the press for the first time in a week as his campaign tried to tamp down self-inflicted damage a day before New Hampshire voters head to the polls.
CNN Live: Tune in Tuesday at 7 p.m. ET for CNN's live special coverage of the New Hampshire Primary and follow real-time results on CNNPolitics.com and on Twitter at #cnnelections. Stay up to date with CNN apps for iPhone, iPad, Android or other phones.
– Follow the Ticker on Twitter: @PoliticalTicker
"I know free enterprise is on trial," Romney repeated as reporters peppered him with questions about an earlier comment that he "liked being able to fire people who provide services to me."
Democrats and Republicans alike seized on the remark, which quickly became a subject of ridicule on the campaign trail. Texas Gov. Rick Perry and former Utah Gov. Jon Huntsman immediately jabbed Romney for brushing off the middle class.
Meanwhile, a super PAC supportive of Newt Gingrich will spend an extremely large sum – $3.4 million – on television advertising in South Carolina targeting Romney over companies that were shuttered after being taken over by his firm.
"As we'll find out, free enterprise will be on trial," Romney said of the ads Monday. "I thought it was going to come from the president, from the Democrats, from the left, but instead it's coming from Speaker Gingrich and apparently others."
The GOP candidate added his remark about firing had been taken "out-of-context" and clarified he believed Americans should be able to "fire" their insurance companies.
"I believe in a setting as I described this morning where people are able to choose their own doctor choose their own insurance company. If they don't like their insurance company or their provider, they get rid of them," Romney said. "That's the way America works."
He said he had "broad shoulders" and could roll with the attacks on his career at Bain Capital – a tactic Democrats have signaled they would pursue if Romney becomes the GOP nominee.
"I understand in politics people can decide to grasp at anything and take it out of context and make it something it's not," Romney said.
The GOP candidate, who is running far ahead of his rivals in New Hampshire, also clarified his Sunday comment that he had worried about getting "a pink slip" at work.
Romney said when he begun working at a consulting firm after receiving his MBA, he had occasionally feared for his job.
"Like anybody who starts at the bottom of an enterprise you wonder when you don't do so well whether you're going to be able to hang on to your job and you wonder if the enterprise gets in trouble will you be one of those laid off," he said.
Santorum to South Carolina: 'Step up'