01/12/2012 10:57 am ET

Mitt Romney Calls Job Loss 'A Tragedy' Ahead Of South Carolina Primary

Former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney said during a stop in South Carolina on Thursday that he believes "any time a job is lost it's a tragedy."

Politico reports that the presidential candidate told reporters, "For the family, for the individual that loses a job, it's devastating."

The remarks from Romney come on the heels of his win in New Hampshire's primary election and as he faces attacks from rival contenders like former House Speaker Newt Gingrich and Texas Gov. Rick Perry on the key economic issue. The AP reports:

Trying to tap into populist sentiment, Gingrich and Perry are accusing Romney of being a fat-cat venture capitalist during his days running the private equity firm Bain Capital, laying off workers as he restructured companies and filled his own pockets.

A group backing Gingrich is airing TV ads in South Carolina showing distraught people who say they lost their jobs to Bain's restructuring practices while Romney was at the helm.

The matter of how many jobs were created or lost during Romney's tenure at Bain was raised during one of last weekend's Republican presidential debates. The AP reported after the event:

After months of getting a pass on the subject from his rivals, Mitt Romney was challenged in the Republican presidential debate Saturday night on his frequent claims that he created great numbers of jobs in the private sector. Newt Gingrich, for one, said Romney's record as a venture capitalist was one of flipping companies, taking out all the money and "leaving behind the workers."

Who's right?

The bottom line remains unknown about how many jobs were gained or lost from Romney's work at the Bain Capital private equity company. But this much is clear: His accounting behind the assertion that he created more than 100,000 jobs at companies he helped start up or turn around has been flawed.

On Thursday, Romney also insisted he is "pro-life" and said he's raising the issue on the campaign trail to counter his rivals' attacks.

"I understand that there are some attack ads coming my way that question" his commitment to life, Romney told reporters gathered at a motorcycle dealership in Greer, S.C. "Obviously it's important for me to remind people that I'm pro-life."

Gingrich's campaign is running ads in South Carolina attacking Romney for changing his position on abortion. It's part of an onslaught of negative ads Romney is facing in the first-in-the-South primary, some from his rivals and some from their wealthy SuperPAC allies.

Romney came to South Carolina Wednesday as the unmistakable front-runner in the GOP presidential sweepstakes. But many of the state's voters are conservative Christians and tea party supporters, and Romney struggled here four years ago. He came in fourth.

Romney said Thursday the environment has changed enough that he could win here.

"Four years ago, we were really focused on Iraq and what was happening there and the surge. And that was an area that really was in John McCain's wheelhouse," Romney said. "Now the economy is the issue people are most concerned about. That's in my wheelhouse."

"This is a time when people care about the economy and the scale of government. It's the message of the tea party, it's the message of the Republican Party," he said.

Romney was leaving South Carolina Thursday to hold a midday rally in West Palm Beach, Fla., where absentee voters are already mailing in ballots. The primary is Jan. 31.

But first he stopped to admire the motorcycles on display at Cherokee Trikes and More after he wrapped up the rally in the back warehouse. He stood with an array of motorcycles behind him as he took reporters' questions – but refused to sit on a motorcycle and pose for pictures.

Instead, he joked: "And, what, put a helmet on, Dukakis style?"