Greer, South Carolina (CNN) - Mitt Romney sought to head off his critics Thursday, and addressed a burgeoning assault on his private sector career and stance on abortion rights as the primary battle shifted South.
The GOP candidate gave reporters a more nuanced account of his career at Bain Capital as some of his rivals continued to drub him for jobs lost at companies Romney helped reorganize.
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"Any time a job is lost it's a tragedy," Romney told reporters. "For the family, for the individual that loses a job, it's just devastating. And every time that we invested in a business it was to try and encourage that business to have ongoing life."
Romney pointed to four companies Bain invested in – Staples, Bright Horizons Children's Centers, Sports Authority and Steel Dynamics – which he said together created more than 100,000 jobs.
"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 a part of that in a small way, and there are some businesses that have to be cut back in order to survive, and try and make them stronger," Romney said. "And sometimes we're successful at that, and sometimes we're not."
Romney continued to trumpet his private sector experience as key to winning over voters, and told reporters he expected to improve upon his 2008 finish in South Carolina because voters were focused on the one issue most in his "wheelhouse."
"This is a time when people care about the economy and the scale of government," he said. "It's the message of the tea party; it's the message of the Republican Party."
Romney said he would try to head off questions posed by his rivals about his commitment to the issue of abortion rights.
"I understand that there are some attack ads coming my way that question that and I think it's important for me to remind people that I am pro-life," Romney said Thursday.
The campaign of Newt Gingrich began airing a 30-second television spot in South Carolina Tuesday that claims Romney allowed taxpayer money to fund abortions during his time in the Massachusetts statehouse.