MANCHESTER, N.H. – Mitt Romney’s Republican presidential rivals repeatedly attacked him as a candidate of the status quo and a timid, less-than-reliable conservative Thursday as they sought to slow his campaign momentum and audition for conservative rival-in- chief.

“Don’t settle for less than America needs,” said Rick Santorum, eager to capitalize on his second-place finish behind the former Massachusetts governor in this week’s Iowa caucuses, a scant eight votes off the pace.

A heavy favorite to win New Hampshire’s primary next Tuesday, Romney all but ignored his Republican rivals as he campaigned in two states. Instead, he criticized President Obama as a “crony capitalist. He’s a job killer.”

Without saying so, the rest of the field appeared to share a common campaign objective — hold down Romney’s vote totals in New Hampshire, then knock him off stride 11 days later in South Carolina, the first Southern primary of the year.

Romney benefited from having several rivals split the vote in Iowa, where his winner’s share was roughly 25 percent.

“Gradually you are going to see we have a difference of opinion about which will be the last conservative standing,” former House Speaker Newt Gingrich told reporters as he campaigned in New Hampshire. “But I think you’ll eventually come down to one conservative and Gov. Romney and he’ll continue to get 25 percent.”

Also vying to emerge as Romney’s chief rival were Texas Rep. Ron Paul and former Utah Gov. Jon Huntsman, while Texas Gov. Rick Perry awaited South Carolina.

“We can’t afford to have a status quo president,” Huntsman said in Durham, N.H. “We can’t afford to have a coronation for president.”

Gingrich unveiled a new television commercial aimed at voters in New Hampshire and South Carolina that cited one review of Romney’s jobs program as timid and nearly identical in part to the president’s.

Meanwhile, in a television ad launched in South Carolina, Romney criticized the Obama administration for bypassing the Senate to appoint three new members of the National Labor Relations Board. He said the move was part of a policy that affects the economy “based not upon what’s right for the American worker, but instead, what’s right for their politics.”