Romney looks forward to South Carolina

BEDFORD, N.H. — Mitt Romney closed his pre-primary rally in New Hampshire by showing he was looking ahead to the next early-voting state.

"Let's take it to the next state after New Hampshire and give me the boost I need, I hope," he told supporters.

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Polls show the former Massachusetts governor in a double-digit lead, and he's expected to win Tuesday's primary.

South Carolina will be a tougher contest, especially after the rough day Romney had Monday.

It didn't end on the best note either.

Occupy protesters invaded Romney's rally at a school here and had to be escorted out by police.

But Romney seemed to take heart from his supporters, who repeatedly shouted "Mitt, Mitt, Mitt" to drown out the protestors' message. He stood on stage smiling as the protestors were escorted out.

The smiles follow a day of comments and clarification as his campaign frantically combated attacks from both sides of the aisle that followed a remark Romney made to business executives Monday morning.

"I like being able to fire people who provide services to me," he told the Nashua Greater Chamber of Commerce, adding that if he isn't getting "good service, I want to say, 'I'm going to get someone else.' "

The context surrounding Romney's remark — which came in answer to a question about what kind of healthcare system he would implement as president — is a view likely shared by many: If you don't like your healthcare company, you should be able to "fire" it and get another.

But the exact quotation was seized by both Democrats and Republicans, who used it as part of their campaign to paint Romney as an unfeeling business executive.

The former governor's campaign arranged a media availability at his next stop — a factory in Hudson, N.H. — so he could try to limit the damage. He said the comment was "taken out of context" and tried to tie it to President Obama's healthcare plan.

"As you know, I was speaking about insurance companies and the need to be able to make a choice," he told reporters after his tour of the Gilchrist Metal Fabricating factory.

"You saw I was talking about insurance companies. We like to be able to get rid of insurance companies that don't give us the services we need. I don't want to live in a world in which we have ObamaCare telling us which insurance we have to have, which doctor we can have, which hospital we have to go to," he said.

But that remark followed one on Sunday in which the former Bain Capital CEO told voters knows what it's like to fear getting a "pink slip."

All this gave fuel to Republican and Democratic fire. And it will be waiting for him in South Carolina, when Romney lands there on Wednesday.

A group supporting Newt Gingrich is spending millions on ads against Romney in the state, targeting his time at Bain.

And Rick Perry has been campaigning down there since Sunday, pounding Romney on those remarks and his tenure at the private-equity firm.

"I have no doubt that Mitt Romney was worried about pink slips — whether he was going to have enough of them to hand out," Perry said, according to reports. "Because his company, Bain Capital, all the jobs that he killed, I'm sure he was worried he would run out of pink slips."

Polls show Romney leading in South Carolina, but Rick Santorum, Perry and Gingrich will be campaigning there hard ahead of its Jan. 21 contest.

If Romney wins there, the nomination is likely his. If someone else takes the lead, the fight will go on to Florida.

Gingrich, in particular, has been hitting Romney hard — both in debates and on the campaign trail.

The former Speaker told CBN News Sunday: "One of my goals is to keep Romney from being in the position to rush the nomination. The longer this goes on, the more clear it is how un-conservative his record is, the more difficult it will be for Romney to survive in this race. And, so the next two weeks become really a big deal."

It's also a time for no mistakes, which is probably why the Romney campaign blasted reporters with releases reminding them "our opponents" were taking Romney's comments out of context.

But first comes New Hampshire's Tuesday contest.

"I hope you're able to give me a much larger margin of votes than the eight I got in Iowa," Romney said at the rally.