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Romney: 'I'm concerned about the poor'

AIKEN, S.C. -- Campaigning here in the Palmetto State, Mitt Romney today sidestepped the withering criticism he's received for his tenure at Bain Capital, and instead praised the free-market system in which it operated.

"I will work to get good jobs back," Romney said. "And a lot of people talk about how we create jobs -- by the way, it is not to walk away from free enterprise; it is not to say that there is something wrong with the free-market system, no it is instead to hold fast to that system and make it work for the American people."

Earlier today, the Obama campaign released a memo ripping Romney for deflecting criticism of his record at Bain onto the free market.

"Free enterprise' isn’t running for president, Mitt Romney is," the memo from Obama campaign strategist Stephanie Cutter read, in part. "And voters deserve straight answers about his record, so they can know how his perspective would influence his decisions and actions if he were president of the United States."

After a brief fundraising sojurn to Florida yesterday, Romney returned to South Carolina for a rally this afternoon with his stump speech subtly tuned to a state with an unemployment rate of 9.9% -- well above the national average.

"If you've been out of work for a long period of time," Romney said, "you know these numbers are not just statistics. These numbers are real people, and real suffering."

In his remarks today, Romney also acknowledged the economy was getting better -- something he has said before -- and declared  that the social safety net needs to be protected.

"And [President Obama]'s going to say the economy is getting better," Romney said. "Thank heavens it's getting better. It's getting better not because of him, it's in spite of him and what he's done."

The former Massachusetts governor also made another slight tweak to his usual campaign message, adding a line today about concern for the poor. Traditionally on the stump and in debates, Romney says the poor are "taken care of" by the country's social safety net. Today he appeared to call for reinforcing that net, in addition to helping the middle class.

"I'm concerned about the poor in this country. We have to make sure the safety net is strong and able to help those who can't help themselves," Romney said, before returning to his standard remarks. "I'm not terribly worried about the very wealthiest in our society; they're doing just fine. I'm concerned about the vast middle class of our nation, the 90 percent of Americans, the 95 percent of Americans who are having tough times."

Of course, as NBC's Domenico Montanaro reported, based on the Tax Policy Center's analysis, the wealthy would benefit most from Romney tax plan and the poor would effectively see a tax increase.