Presidential Race

Romney Emerges From Week Of Contradictions

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On the one hand, Mitt Romney's landslide win in New Hampshire put him solidly on a course to focus on the general election last week. On the other hand, a new series of attacks on his years as a venture capitalist forced him to engage more directly than before with his primary rivals. NPR's Ari Shapiro reports from Aiken, S.C.

SCOTT SIMON, HOST:

And Mitt Romney spent the last week celebrating a major victory and then fending off some major attacks. NPR's Ari Shapiro reports from Aiken, South Carolina.

ARI SHAPIRO, BYLINE: Mitt Romney had a contradictory week. On the one hand, his landslide win in New Hampshire put him solidly on a course to focus on the general election and President Obama.

MITT ROMNEY: This president puts his faith in government. We put our faith in the American people.

SHAPIRO: On the other hand, a new series of attacks on his years at the investment firm Bain Capital forced him to engage more directly than before with his primary rivals. Texas Governor Rick Perry tried to turn vulture capitalist into a household phrase.

GOVERNOR RICK PERRY: They used their company to come in and close down a photo album manufacture in Gaffney, South Carolina and 150 people lost their jobs there.

SHAPIRO: Ultimately the attacks reached such a level of intensity that Romney had to address the charges directly, wading back into the primary morass to defend himself.

ROMNEY: Every time that we invested in the business it was to try and encourage that business to have ongoing life.

SHAPIRO: He seemed incredulous that Republicans were attacking what he regards as free-market capitalism. Even Republicans who had been cool to him before came to his defense, from Rush Limbaugh to the Wall Street Journal editorial page. The Romney campaign released new ads, testimonials from surrogates and pushed back hard in a way that almost seems at odds with a man who is now seen as the prohibitive favorite to win the nomination.

This week, even South Carolina voters who seemed predisposed to dislike Romney sounded like they were begrudgingly climbing on board. Tom Fisher is a retiree from Greenville.

TOM FISHER: I mean, it's a stretch, you know, a guy coming out of Massachusetts state that produced the Kennedy boys and Barney Frank, I mean, this is a stretch for us. But the guy's coming from a business background like myself. I think this guy's the one that can probably turn it around.

SHAPIRO: Today, the candidates meet in Charleston for a forum where the Bain attacks will likely continue. Ari Shapiro, NPR News, Aiken, South Carolina.

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