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Newt Gingrich: I can't talk rationally about Romney's Bain record

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Newt Gingrich on Wednesday suggested his attacks on rival Mitt Romney's record at Bain Capital have not been rational - though a spokesman insisted Gingrich is not backing off the attacks.

Gingrich's comment came after a voter in Spartanburg, South Carolina, told Gingrich that he believed the former House speaker has "missed the target on the way you're addressing Romney's weaknesses."

"I want to beg you to redirect and go after his obvious disingenuosness about his conservatism and lay off the corporatist versus the free market," said the voter.

Gingrich replied: "I agree - I agree with you."

"I think it's an impossible theme to talk about with Obama in the background," Gingrich continued. "Obama just makes it impossible to talk rationally in that area because he is so deeply into class warfare that automatically you get an echo effect which, as a Reagan Republican it frankly never occurred to me until it happened. So I agree with you entirely."

Gingrich, who has harshly criticized Romney for his record at Bain, seemed to be saying he cannot "talk rationally" about Romney's record because of the way Mr. Obama frames the issue.

Gingrich's attacks on Romney's record have prompted some conservatives to criticize the former speaker for adopting the rhetoric of Occupy Wall Street. On Fox News on Monday, Gingrich said the buyouts at the company "don't look like capitalism, they look like rich guys looting"; the same day, Gingrich complained to Bloomberg Television that Romney and Bain "made a lot of money while people were going broke." Another GOP presidential candidate, Texas Gov. Rick Perry, has labeled Romney and his Bain coworkers "vultures."

Gingrich spokesman R.C. Hammond told reporters after the comments in Spartanburg that the campaign is "absolutely not" having second thoughts about the Romney attacks. He said "we will continue to examine what decisions he made at Bain, why he made those decisions, what was motivating him to make those decisions and the American people can decide whether or not they want an investment-banker-in-chief as their commander-in-chief."

Hammond added in a statement: "Instead of accepting the responsibility to answer questions about his business background, the Romney campaign is throwing up a smokescreen about an attack on capitalism."

Gingrich's comments Wednesday coincide with the release of "When Mitt Romney Came to Town," a slickly-produced short film that showcases people who lost jobs after Bain took over their companies and depicts Romney as "more ruthless than Wall Street." ("I feel that is the man that destroyed us," one woman says in the film, as ominous music plays in the background.) The film was released by Winning Our Future, a super PAC backing Gingrich that is planning to air the film in South Carolina as part of its millions of dollars in advertising ahead of the state's January 21 primary.

When he was being attacked by a Romney-backed Super PAC in Iowa, Gingrich deemed the notion that Romney isn't coordinating with the Super PAC "baloney." (Candidates cannot legally coordinate with such groups.)

"[D]on't hide behind some baloney about this super PAC that I actually have no control over that happens to be run by five of my former staff. That's just baloney," Gingrich said in December.

The Super PAC airing the anti-Romney film in South Carolina is led by Becky Burkett, a onetime official with a now-defunct group that Gingrich founded after leaving Congress. Longtime Gingrich aide Rick Tyler is also working for the group.

With reporting by CBS News/National Journal off-air reporter Sarah Huisenga.

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Brian Montopoli

Brian Montopoli is the national reporter and political analyst for

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