COLUMBIA, S.C., Jan. 13 (UPI) -- South Carolina Tea Party activists mobilized against GOP White House front-runner Mitt Romney, alarmed he has benefited from a fractured conservative vote.
At the same time, the former Massachusetts governor defended his time running private-equity firm Bain Capital LLC, while acknowledging some companies Bain bought and sold at a profit cut jobs to become profitable.
"I think (Romney is) in another world," Myrtle Beach, S.C., activist Joe Dugan told The Washington Post. "With all his million-dollar homes, he doesn't understand the everyday American."
Dugan, a backer of former House Speaker Newt Gingrich of Georgia, is helping organize a Tea Party convention this weekend featuring appearances by Gingrich, a fiscal conservative, and former Sen. Rick Santorum of Pennsylvania, a social conservative.
Fiscal conservatives aggressively target the budget deficit and consider cutting overall government spending and ensuring a balanced budget of paramount importance. Social conservatives take a hard line on issues such as abortion, contraception and gay marriage.
The Tea Party convention seeks to rally the conservative-libertarian movement behind a single candidate, organizers said.
Other scheduled speakers include Sen. Jim DeMint of South Carolina, dean of the congressional Tea Party Caucus, and Tea Party-backed South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley, who has, controversially, endorsed Romney.
"The Tea Party in Iowa and New Hampshire did not have a strategy, so the conservative vote was split," Gingrich supporter Mike George, founder of Strong America Now, a group of Tea Party fiscal conservatives, told the Financial Times. "It's a problem that conservatives have not coalesced around a single candidate."
About 150 leading conservative Christians from around the country were to meet in Texas Friday and Saturday to consider the same question.
However, they have scaled back their goals, acknowledging they are unlikely to agree on a single alternative to Romney until after the Jan. 21 South Carolina primary, if then, The New York Times reported.
"The best thing that can happen for social conservatives is for one candidate to get a very clear mandate from South Carolina voters," Richard Land, president of the public policy arm of the Southern Baptist Convention, told the Times. "If that happens, you might be able to get a consensus that makes a difference."
Romney defended his 14 years at Bain, from 1984 to 1998, and conceded some businesses his company took over lost jobs on his watch. But many added jobs, with a net addition of more than 100,000 jobs, he has claimed, without providing details on how he arrived at that figure.
"Any time a job is lost it's a tragedy," Romney said at a motorcycle shop near Greenville Thursday. "For the family, for the individual that loses a job, it's devastating. And every time that we invested in the business it was to try and encourage that business to have ongoing life."
But Romney said, "The reality is in the private sector ... there's some businesses that have to be cut back in order to survive and try to make them stronger -- and sometimes you're successful at that and sometimes you're not."
Former Utah Gov. Jon Huntsman Jr. -- rather than directly hitting Romney over Bain -- reminded voters Thursday of a statement Romney made Monday about firing people.
"When you have a candidate who talks about enjoyment of firing people, that makes you pretty much unelectable," he said.
Texas Gov. Rick Perry was told by supporter Barbara Schimp in downtown Summerville he should stop attacking Romney and "stick to your own story."
The attacks are "coming across as anti-business," she said.
"It's not anti-business," Perry said.
"It just comes across sounding like it," Schimp said. "Stick to your story, sir -- it's a good story."