Republican presidential candidate Newt Gingrich called on supporters on Friday to correct or scrap a just-released documentary that portrays rival Mitt Romney as a corporate raider who cost thousands of Americans their jobs.
It was a dramatic turnaround for Gingrich, who has hammered Republican front-runner Romney over his role in the 1980s and 1990s at Bain Capital LLC, which bought companies and overhauled them.
Gingrich continued chiding Romney on Friday for his record in business, but the former U.S. House of Representatives speaker's appeal to Winning Our Future, a pro-Gingrich group separate from his campaign, came as he faced increasing pressure to back off such attacks.
Winning Our Future, a "super" political action committee than can raise unlimited funds, sponsored the anti-Romney documentary "King of Bain."
Clips of the film are being aired in ads for Gingrich before South Carolina's January 21 Republican primary. The primary is widely seen as perhaps the last chance for conservatives to stop Romney from running away with the Republican presidential nomination to challenge Democratic President Barack Obama on November 6.
Gingrich has been particularly aggressive in pushing the Bain line of attack, drawing criticism from some conservative and business leaders who say he is essentially criticizing free enterprise, a tenet of Republican politics.
Gingrich and Winning Our Future also have been besieged by complaints about the accuracy of the anti-Romney film.
The Washington Post's fact-checking feature on Friday awarded "King of Bain" four "Pinocchios" - its worst rating - and called it a "highly misleading portrayal of Romney's years at Bain Capital."
At a campaign stop in Orlando hours after that review was published, Gingrich called on the PAC to "either edit out every single mistake or pull the entire film."
The Post described the 28-minute film as "such an over the top assault on former Massachusetts governor Mitt Romney that it is hard to know where to begin."
The film uses footage of distraught middle-class Americans who blame Romney's deal-making for their woes, and mixes images of closed businesses with clips of Romney that make him look vain, foolish or greedy.
Romney's campaign fought back on Friday, releasing a television ad in South Carolina that defended his record at Bain. During speeches to voters, Romney's theme was a defense of free enterprise.
The way to restore job growth is "not to walk away from free enterprise," but to "hold fast to the that system and make it work for the American people," Romney said at a campaign stop in Aiken, South Carolina.
The core message of Romney's campaign is that he has the business savvy to rebuild the U.S. economy, reduce unemployment and rebuild manufacturing because of his private-sector experience.
The Bain attacks, if they were to take hold among voters, could leave Romney more vulnerable to assaults by Obama's campaign and PAC this fall, assuming Romney is the Republican nominee.
But many strategists said Gingrich's attacks appeared to have strengthened Romney by rallying party leaders who have worried the former governor of relatively liberal Massachusetts is too moderate.
Romney leads Gingrich in polls of voters in South Carolina. Four years ago, he lost the state badly to Senator John McCain, the eventual Republican nominee.
Capturing South Carolina would make Romney three-for-three in the state-by-state race to win the Republican nomination. Romney's previous wins came in Iowa and New Hampshire.
Gingrich finished fourth in both of those contests.
The fight between the two Republicans goes back to late December, when attack ads run by Romney supporters knocked Gingrich from the top spot in opinion polls in Iowa.
"Somebody (who) is running for president ought to have the courage to stand up for the truth," said Gingrich, who has scoffed at Romney's claim he could not control the actions of the PAC that supports him.
Earlier this week, Gingrich defended the "King of Bain" film, while emphasizing he had no relationship with the PAC that was releasing it.
"If somebody who is very wealthy comes in, takes over your company, takes out all the cash and leaves behind the unemployment, I think that's not a model (of capitalism) we want to advocate," he said on Fox News' "Fox and Friends."
In calling on Winning Our Future to re-examine the anti-Romney ad, Gingrich also urged Romney to edit or remove ads that Gingrich said contained "gross inaccuracies" about him.
Gingrich was in Florida on Friday to raise money and open a campaign office.
Florida holds its presidential primary on January 31, but many of the state's 4 million registered Republicans will not wait that long to vote. Nearly 50,000 completed absentee ballots already have been returned to election offices, and 400,000 more are in voters' hands.
A week of early voting at polling sites will kick off on January 21, the same day South Carolina voters go to the polls.
That leaves Gingrich little time to close the gap with Romney, who held a 12-point lead over him in Florida in a Quinnipiac poll this week.