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Romney: Unemployment 'not just a statistic'

Jamie Novogrod / NBC News

Former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney shakes supporters' hands following speech in West Palm Beach, Florida.

 

PALM BEACH, FL -- Softening somewhat his response to recent Republican criticism of his private sector career, former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney sought to project sympathy with out-of-work Americans, calling unemployment "not just a statistic."

“Being unemployed for a long period of time means families having a hard time making ends meet,” Romney said. “It means in some cases people having trouble in their marriages, losing faith, becoming depressed.”

It was a renewed focus by Romney, the current frontrunner for the GOP nomination, in response to recent attacks by GOP rivals of Romney's career at Bain Capital, the private equity firm he cofounded. Former House Speaker Newt Gingrich and Texas Gov. Rick Perry have assailed the instances in which Bain took over companies only to gut them and force layoffs.

Conservatives have rallied to Romney's defense, and his campaign has focused on the instances in which Bain's investments helped create jobs. But the issue has become a challenge to the central narrative of Romney's campaign -- economic competence that would spur job creation -- on which Democrats have gladly piggybacked.

Romney's remarks came during a speech to several hundred supporters inside the Palm Beach County convention center this afternoon, where members of the campaign said they were forced to establish an overflow room after reaching a capacity of 400 people.

As if to quell questions about the purpose of his remarks, Romney followed with a jab at President Obama’s stewardship of the economy.

“My job is to get Americans back to work. If I'm president of the United States, I'll worry about your jobs, not my job,” he said, to applause.

Declaring that the "president's run out of time, and he's run out of excuses," Romney hit President Obama on foreign affairs, too, insisting the President has “failed in Iran.”  His remarks may signal a foreign policy that would re-incorporate elements of the so-called "freedom agenda" of the George W. Bush years.

“I’ve seen a president who has appeased some of the worst actors in the world, like Ahmadinejad.  I will stand up for the people who have demonstrated in the streets for freedom around the world,” Romney vowed.