COLUMBIA, S.C. — Jon Huntsman on Wednesday joined the chorus of Republicans urging Mitt Romney’s opponents to tone down their attacks on the former Massachusetts governor over his time at the investment firm Bain Capital.

Former Utah governor Jon Huntsman (R). (Cheryl Senter/Associated Press)

But later, Huntsman’s spokesman Michael Levoff struck a somewhat different tone.

“Gov. Huntsman believes Romney has an electability problem regarding his time at Bain, but he does not believe attacking the venture capital business model is productive,” he said in a statement.

Newt Gingrich and Texas Gov. Rick Perry have lately stepped up their criticism of Romney over his time at the firm, which was responsible for saving many companies but at the cost of thousands of jobs. But some conservative groups have criticized the attacks as anti-capitalist and urged GOP candidates to stop following the line of attack.

At his first appearance in South Carolina after coming in third in Tuesday’s New Hampshire primary, Huntsman said the best way to deal with the inevitable job losses that occur in a capitalist system, in which companies are always breaking up and merging, is to have a strong economy so that laid-off workers can find new positions. He likened it to breaking up large banks, which he favors.

“You can’t be on both sides of this issue. If you’re going to stand for breaking up the banks then you can’t criticize Bain Capital for doing some of what it did,” he said.

Asked about his chances in South Carolina, Huntsman said his expectations were “very low” but did not elaborate. He indicated that he planned to stay in the race despite his relatively lackluster performance in Tuesday’s primary and said he was looking forward to the next contest, in Florida.