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Perry likens Romney, Bain to 'vultures'

UPDATED 3:30 PM ET

FORT MILL, S.C. -- In his most searing criticism to date of the Republican frontrunner, Gov. Rick Perry on Tuesday described companies like Gov. Mitt Romney's former firm Bain Capital as a "vultures" that eat the "carcasses" of struggling businesses.

"They’re vultures sitting out there on the tree limb waiting for the company to get sick," Perry said of private equity firms during remarks to an assisted living community in northeastern South Carolina. "And then they swoop in, they eat the carcass, they leave with that and they leave the skeleton.”

The attacks on Romney and Bain have been ratcheted up, as candidates fight for political survival in this Republican nomination fight that could soon be effectively over if Romney pulls off a significant New Hampshire win and then follows it up with one in South Carolina.

In language that could perhaps fall on sympathetic ears of Occupy Wall Street protestors, Perry derided Bain for its involvement in the restructuring of two South Carolina companies that he claims resulted in heavy job losses in the region.

"Mitt Romney was the head of Bain Capital when that was happening," he said. "And it’s that mentality of making money against all other considerations."

Perry later confirmed to reporters that the "vulture" metaphor specifically referred to Bain Capital, adding that such firms stretch the limit of free market principles.

"We have allowed these greedy people on Wall Street to take advantage of small companies that may be going through some tough times," he said at a press conference Tuesday. "And instead of trying to work with them to find a way to keep the jobs and get them back on their feet it's all about how much money can we make, how quick can we make it and then get out of town and find the next carcass to feed upon."

The Texas governor, who has struck populist tones throughout his presidential run, said that Romney's history at Bain will be examined by voters in the days after today's New Hampshire primary, where Romney is expected to win by a wide margin.

"When you look at all the jobs that they destroyed by this going in and restructuring these companies, taking their big management fees and then the people whose jobs have been pitched over the side, I think that's an assessment that hasn't been done yet," he said. "And I think it's going to happen over the course of the next week."

On Tuesday, Perry also accused the current administration of mutual back-scratching with big business interests, noting that the White House's last three chiefs of staff have been tied to Wall Street firms.

"You don't think there's a little bit of inside dealing going on there? That their buddies on Wall Street aren't calling em up and saying 'hey how about let's not be quite that tough on those of us on Wall Street," he said. "We're just good old boys out here trying to make a buck'?"

So far, Perry's critiques of rivals have failed to gain traction; millions of dollars spent on Iowa ads labeling them "insiders" earned him only a fifth-place finish in the January 3rd caucuses. His campaign hopes that a state that prides itself on "picking presidents" and defying conventional wisdom will give Perry a desperately-needed boost.

Perry would not answer questions Tuesday about what anything other than a win here in South Carolina would mean for the future of his campaign. "Our intention is to win. And I can't tell you anything other than that," he said.

But, defying the obvious Texas historical metaphor for a man making his last stand in the face of almost certain defeat, Perry said that his last-ditch campaign swing in South Carolina is less like the famed slaughter of revolutionaries in 1836 and more like the triumphant final battle that ultimately won the region its independence from Mexico.

"This isn't our Alamo," he told the audience in Fort Mill. "It's our San Jacinto."

NBC's Ali Weinberg contributed to this report.