Republican frontrunner Mitt Romney's team hit back Saturday at President Barack Obama's campaign for portraying him as a jobs destroyer, ahead of a pivotal US election primary in South Carolina.
Romney, favorite to take on Obama in November, sought to turn the tables on the Democratic president, with a senior campaign aide saying the candidate's business experience trumped Obama's background as a "community organizer."
"No amount of speechmaking will persuade the American people that his economic record has been anything other than an unmitigated disaster," Romney's policy director Lanhee Chen said of Obama in a statement.
South Carolina will vote on January 21 for a Republican nominee to contest the country's November 6 presidential election.
South Carolina is seen as the last chance for Romney's challengers to revive their chances after the frontrunner triumphed in the race's opening contests in Iowa and New Hampshire.
Attacks by Obama aides on Romney's economic credentials on Friday added to similar outbursts from the latter's Republican rivals over his 15-year tenure at equity firm Bain Capital and disputed claims that he created 100,000 jobs.
The Obama campaign's intervention whipped up a new storm around Romney, who has been battered by the jobs debate, in which he has been repeatedly accused of firing thousands of workers while securing millions in profits for himself.
But Chen laid the economic blame at Obama's door, stating that the number of Americans unemployed, underemployed or no longer seeking work had risen from 22 million people to nearly 24 million during the incumbent's reign.
"In January 2009, the month President Obama assumed office, the total US public debt outstanding was $10.4 trillion. Today it exceeds more than ê15 trillion," Chen added.
"The American people are all too well aware that this is money that they must eventually pay back."
The decision of Obama's team to enter the fray added to the impression that an important moment of the 2012 campaign has arrived, with Romney battling to shore up the axis of his presidential run -- that he is the best candidate to create jobs lost since Obama entered the White House.
The Democrats weighed in again Saturday, arguing that Romney's plans would cut taxes for wealthy Americans and raise taxes for the middle class.
"Romney's tax plan, compared to current policy, would increase taxes for those making under $40,000," the Democratic National Committee said in a statement, while giving "huge tax cuts to the wealthy."
"Romney's tax plan, compared to current policy, would cut taxes an average of $82,188 for those in the top one percent, and by ê464,005 for the top 0.1 percent," the statement added.
A new poll released late Friday gave Romney a slim lead in South Carolina, a conservative state whose Republicans have on every occasion since 1980 plumped for the party's eventual nominee.
Public Policy Polling (PPP) put Romney on 29 percent, former House speaker Newt Gingrich at 24 percent, and libertarian candidate Ron Paul on 15 percent.
Rick Santorum, seen as much more conservative than Romney, was on 14 percent, with Texas Governor Rick Perry (five percent), and former US ambassador to China Jon Huntsman (one percent) well back in the race.
"Voters there are overwhelmingly focused on the economy this year and that's working to (Romney's) advantage," the pollsters said.
"Asked who they trust most on economic issues, 35 percent pick Romney to 25 percent for Gingrich, 16 percent for Paul, and 10 percent for Santorum," PPP added.
The Romney campaign also Saturday released a video playing up the former Massachusetts governor's pro-life stance on abortion, one of the hot-button issues on which opponents have accused him of being a flip-flopper.
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