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Romney, Haley defend 'free markets,' gird for more attacks


COLUMBIA, SC -- At a packed rally in South Carolina's capital city, Gov. Nikki Haley on Wednesday night defended the value of free markets in a proxy defense of the man she has endorsed for president, Mitt Romney.

"I am proud of all of our Republican candidates, but we have a real problem when we have Republicans talking like Democrats against the free market. We believe in free markets. We don't ever want people to come in and say that Boeing can hire and fire. We don't ever want people to go in to Michelin and say that they can make profits or they can't. We want companies to be able to do what is best for companies and during tough times you downsize and you make hard decisions and during good times you expand and you grow," Haley said. "That's what he's done. He's done what every one of us has tried to do."

The remarks came as Romney's rivals for the GOP nomination have seized on the former Bain Capital CEO's record in the private economy, and accused him of offenses as varied as practicing "vulture capitalism" (Texas Gov. Rick Perry) and "looting of companies" (Newt Gingrich).

Jason Reed / Reuters

Republican presidential candidate and former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney speaks alongside South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley on Wednesday as they meet with supporters at the Hall at Senate's End in Columbia, S.C.

On Wednesday a Super PAC supporting Newt Gingrich released a 27-minute video attacking Bain -- and Romney's -- track record of sometimes overseeing the demise or bankruptcy of companies they invested in.

On his flight from New Hampshire to South Carolina on Wednesday, Romney said he expected such attacks would come during this campaign -- but not from his Republican colleagues.

"We've understood for a long time that the Obama people would come after free enterprise. I was a little surprised to see Newt Gingrich as the first witness for the prosecution, but I don't think that's going to hurt my efforts," Romney told reporters. "Frankly, if I cant take a few shots coming from my colleagues on the republican side, I'm not ready for Barack Obama."

As the GOP nomination race moves to South Carolina, a state with a famously bare-knuckle approach toward nominating presidents, Romney said he was ready for a whisper campaign about his faith, Bain, or anything else that might come up.

"Politics ain’t bean bags and I know it's going to get tough and no one's going to be happy if things are said that are untrue," Romney told reporters on his campaign plane. "But I know that is sometimes part of the underbelly of politics."