Mitt Romney, the front-runner in the race to be the US Republican presidential candidate, has hit back at fellow party rivals who have criticised him for being a corporate raider during his time running a private equity firm.
Romney defended his record in a new television advertisement that accuses his Republican presidential rivals of taking the "Obama line" in their battle for the nomination.
The ads are running in South Carolina, where voters are still unsure of him in the run-up to the state's crucial January 21 primary.
Romney's new ad lists the companies, Staples, Sports Authority and Steel Dynamics, as successes of the Bain Capital venture firm, which he headed form 1984 to 1999.
"We expected the Obama administration to put free markets on trial ... Romney's [Republican Party] opponents are embarrassing themselves by taking the Obama line," the ad says.
That comment was a rejoinder to Newt Gingrich, a former speaker of the House of Representatives, and Rick Perry, the Texas governor, who have been going after Romney in the days ahead of the South Carolina primary, over his Bain tenure.
Through their own advertising campaign, they accused Romney of being a heartless capitalist and of laying off workers while lining his own pockets with profit.
The two have drawn criticism from across the Republican Party for doing so.
"These are surprising accusations coming from conservative Republicans who have in recent days embraced a traditionally left-wing argument about capitalism more characteristic of a Democrat candidate," Al Jazeera's Kimberly Halkett reported from Washington.
Fertile ground for attacks
Romney won the first two nominating contests, in Iowa and New Hampshire, and South Carolina may be his opponents' last chance to stop his momentum and prevent him from becoming the Republican presidential nominee.
South Carolina may be fertile ground for the attacks on Romney. The state has suffered a string of shuttered textile plants and other workplaces. At 9.9 per cent, it has one of America's highest unemployment rates. Its Republican electorate also has a disproportionate number of blue-collar workers and non-college graduates.
"President [Barack] Obama’s re-election campaign has been handed an opportunity should Romney become the Republican Presidential nominee," our correspondent said about the criticisms against Romney.
"Now that his own fellow Republicans are on record labelling Romney as a capitalist who made money on the backs of the unemployed, it will be easier for Democrats to follow suit."
The developments come as the Obama campaign released a scathing memo noting that Bain closed companies and cut wages and benefits, while Romney and his partners became wealthy.
"His [Romney's] overwrought response to questions about it has been to insist that any criticism of his business record is an assault on free enterprise itself,'' Stephanie Cutter, an Obama campaign aide, wrote. "But this is just an attempt to evade legitimate scrutiny of the record on which he says he's running.''
Gingrich and Perry, each looking to shore up their struggling campaigns, have been aided by a pro-Gingrich independent group that has pledged to run $3.4m worth of ads attacking Romney on this issue in South Carolina.
However, under pressure from conservatives to scale back the attacks on Romney's business record, Gingrich released a statement on Friday asking the super political action committee to edit its advertisements to remove inaccuracies, or pull them.
Source: Al Jazeera and agencies