- The Washington Times - Tuesday, January 17, 2012

FLORENCE, S.C. — Mitt Romney said Tuesday he will eventually release his income-tax returns, but acknowledged he likely pays a lower overall tax rate than many less-wealthy Americans.

In a debate Monday, Texas Gov. Rick Perry called on Mr. Romney to release the information ahead of Saturday’s primary in South Carolina so voters could evaluate Mr. Romney better. At the time, the former Massachusetts governor said he would make a decision later, but by Tuesday morning he said he would release the forms — though probably not until April, which could be after the nomination battle is over.

Still, he did begin to talk about the potentially damaging outcome of that release.

“What’s the effective rate I’ve been paying? It’s probably closer to the 15 percent rate than anything,” Mr. Romney said, referring to the tax rate on investment income, which is much lower than the top rates for wage or salary income.

Monday night’s debate produced a dozen noteworthy moments and could reshape the race here in South Carolina, as candidates across the board sought to press their advantage or recover from stumbles.

Newt Gingrich released a television ad Tuesday showing his exchange with Fox News debate panelist Juan Williams, who had challenged the former House speaker on his claim that President Obama is the “food-stamp president” and Mr. Gingrich’s idea that poor urban youths could earn money by doing janitorial work.

Mr. Gingrich’s thundering answer that he wouldn’t be cowed by “liberals unhappy” with his plans drew a standing ovation from the audience.

The attack even resonated at the White House, where the president’s spokesman, Jay Carney, accused Republicans of creating the environment that led to a record number of Americans ending up on food stamps last year.

“The economic policies that helped create that situation are ones that, in the case of [Mr. Gingrich], he supported, and they’re the kinds of policies that he advocates to this day,” the spokesman said.

Mr. Gingrich collected the endorsement of South Carolina Lt. Gov. Ken Ard, while rival Rep. Ron Paul of Texas won the support of three more South Carolina state senators.

Mr. Paul said he detects momentum building and rejected the suggestion he would drop out of the race if Mr. Romney continues to win the next couple of contests, saying it’s a long time before anyone has the nomination sewed up.

The congressman also defended his call for an international Golden Rule in Monday’s debate.

“You look at the six or seven large religions in the history of the world, one way or another they recognize, you treat people the way you want to be treated,” he said in Spartanburg, S.C.

Mr. Paul will take Wednesday off the campaign trail to return to Washington, where he will join fellow House Republicans in voting to disapprove of the latest debt-limit increase.

His campaign manager, Jesse Benton, said the move will underscore that Mr. Paul is engaged in the fight.

“Tomorrow’s vote will divide leaders into two starkly different camps: the tax-and-spend establishment and the true reformers, who want to roll back decades of government enlargement, overreach and irresponsibility,” he said.

Mr. Romney emerged from Monday’s bumpy debate saying he was “delighted” by the outcome and continued to press an attack on former Sen. Rick Santorum of Pennsylvania, who in 2002 voted to force states to let felons who have served their sentences be allowed to vote in federal elections.

The amendment, which failed, would have overturned rules in about a dozen states that require felons to apply to have their rights restored — usually to the governor — or ban them from voting altogether.

The attack was first raised in an advertisement being run by political supporters of Mr. Romney.

While Mr. Romney had seemed almost apologetic for the ad in Monday’s debate, it was no-holds-barred Tuesday morning.

Mr. Santorum had criticized the former governor for doing nothing to overturn a Massachusetts law that allowed felons to vote while on parole.

But Mr. Romney said the criticism was odd, given that Mr. Santorum had supported similar legislation.

“It was a very strange thing, but I thought it was great for him to make it very clear that he’s someone who thinks felons should be able to vote,” Mr. Romney said. “I’m someone who believes felons who committed violent crimes should not be able to vote.”

Speaking to reporters in Charleston, Mr. Santorum said Mr. Romney must condemn the ads.

“We have a candidate who’s not going to stand up and tell the truth,” he said. “That leads to real serious questions about whether that man can be trusted to tell the truth on a variety of things.”

For his part, Mr. Perry, who ignited the calls for Mr. Romney’s tax returns, spent Tuesday trying to win voters one by one.

In Florence, he ate lunch at the Drive-In restaurant and showed off photos of his family to Stephanie Rawlinson, vice chairman of the county’s GOP, who is still trying to make up her mind whether to vote for Mr. Perry or Mr. Gingrich.

She said she crossed Mr. Romney off that list earlier in the day after he campaigned a few miles away at the civic center, where she said his staff treated the local party members and volunteers poorly.

“His staff was as rude to our local party as they could possibly be,” she said, her words marked with a distinct Southern lilt. “Our volunteers left the event and went to the Gingrich event because they were so rude.”

As for her, she said she was impressed by the Texas governor.

“Mitt Romney, he ran by me and never shook my hand or spoke to me, and this man sat down and had a conversation with me and my family,” Mrs. Rawlinson said. “You could tell just listening to him talking about normal things that he’s as smart as any of the rest of them.”

After Mr. Perry finished his lunch, he posed for photos with diners.

One described herself as a lifelong “yellow-dog Democrat” — a term used to describe a Southern voter so devoted to the party that they would rather vote for a yellow dog than a Republican. Linda Hayes said the GOP is about to get her first vote ever.

“This eighth-generation, yellow-dog Democrat is voting for Rick Perry,” she said. “I like him, and he’s cute.”

• This article is based in part on wire service reports.

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