Mitt Romney doubled down on the statement that as president he would not support the DREAM Act, insisting that anyone here in the U.S. illegally go back to their country, apply for residency, in effect “get in line.”

At the Fox News sponsored South Carolina debate, the leading 2012 Republican presidential candidate justified his opposition to this proposed legislation, despite overwhelming support--85 percent--in the Latino community and despite co-moderator and Fox News contributor Juan Williams noting that Romney’s hardline would alienate Hispanic voters in the general election.

This was one of the few times Romney was on offense, just days before the important South Carolina Republican primary. Since Ronald Reagan, no GOP candidate has become the presidential nominee without winning this key southern state.

The former governor of Massachusetts mostly reserved his sharpest criticism for President Obama, reflecting an election strategy meant to present himself and his proposed policies to voters as the alternative to the president in the run-up to the general presidential contest in November.  “Whoever we nominate has to be able to stand up to Obama,” Romney stated. 

But for much of the debate, Romney had to stand up to fire from his fellow Republicans. 

Former Pennsylvania Senator Rick Santorum, former Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich, Texas Congressman Ron Paul, and Texas Governor Rick Perry all heaped criticism on Romney.  Although the topics ranged from his record as Massachusetts governor on women’s reproductive rights and gun rights, the most furious attacks focused on Romney’s tenure as head of Bain Capital.  Dubbed a “vulture” versus a venture capitalist, Romney has been accused of promoting business strategies that prey on ailing companies, gutting them, with hundreds of workers losing their jobs.

At the debate, Perry cited the example of Georgetown Steel that cut 1,750 jobs, eventually going bankrupt while the prestigious Boston-based consulting firm which bought the South Carolina mill for $24.5 million in 1993, made $58.4 million about a decade later, according to the Myrtle Beach Sun News.

This sharp criticism has cast doubt on Romney’s assertion that, based on his private sector experience, he is the best candidate to turn around the ailing economy.  The economy and job creation are top issues for anxious voters, including Latinos who have been disproportionately hard hit by the recession: unemployment in the Hispanic community stands at about 11 percent in comparison to the 8.5 percent national rate. 

Also in 2010 6.1 million Latino children lived in poverty—more than any other racial or ethnic group; and Hispanic household wealth fell 66 percent, from $18,359 in 2005 to $6,235 in 2009, according to the Pew Hispanic Center.

Romney has New Hampshire and a razor thin Iowa victory under his belt.  He will need something that eluded him at the debate: a clear, strong win on Saturday in the Palmetto state to propel him toward the nomination at the August Republican convention and November’s general election.

Viviana Hurtado’s blog The Wise Latina Club has won "Best Politics Blogger" awards by LATISM and Blogs by Latinas. She is a regular columnist for Fox News Latino. You can follow her on twitter at: @vivianahurtado

Where Rick Perry Stands on Latino Issues

Where Rick Santorum Stands on Latino Issues

Where Mitt Romney Stands on Latino Issues

Where Ron Paul Stands on Latino Issues

Where Newt Gingrich Stands on Latino Issues

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Viviana Hurtado is the founder and blogger-in-chief at The Wise Latina Club and the host of Hispanic Business Today: American Success Stories, nationally syndicated on NBC. She is a regular columnist for Fox News Latino. You can follow her on Twitter at: @vivianahurtado

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