, TAMPA, Jan 24 – Stung by a series of setbacks, Mitt Romney on Tuesday heeded calls to release tax documents detailing his vast fortune and fired back at surging Republican White House rival Newt Gingrich.
The release of the tax documents to US media followed another fiery debate late Monday in which Romney – trailing in recent polls – painted Gingrich as a career Washington “influence peddler” unfit for the White House.
The documents show that Romney, a former venture capitalist and one of the richest people to ever seek the presidency, paid some $6 million in the past two years on more than $40 million of income, almost all from investments.
Investments are typically taxed at 15 percent — the rate Romney paid – while wages are taxed up to 35 percent, part of a lopsided revenue system that Democratic President Barack Obama has argued unfairly favors the wealthy.
Romney’s critics, both Democrats and Republicans, have accused the on-again, off-again frontrunner of pillaging companies and destroying jobs during his time at equity firm Bain Capital.
The former Massachusetts governor has instead presented himself as a managerial wizard who turned around failing firms and created tens of thousands of jobs, saying his business acumen makes him an ideal presidential candidate.
But the resurgent Gingrich — fresh off a major win in South Carolina on Saturday and leading in the polls — pressed the attack at Monday’s debate days before delegate-rich Florida holds a key vote that could confirm his rise.
Romney fought back, attacking Gingrich’s work for state-backed mortgage lender Freddie Mac, which many Republicans blame for the housing bubble and the ensuing recession, which hit Florida particularly hard.
“I don’t think we can possibly retake the White House if the person who’s leading our party is the person who was working for the chief lobbyist of Freddie Mac,” Romney said.
“Freddie Mac was paying speaker Gingrich $1.6 million at the same time Freddie Mac was costing the people of Florida millions of dollars.”
Gingrich, shedding his trademark bombast, tried to rise above the fray, dismissing the charges as the “worst kind of trivial politics.”
“Governor Romney can’t tell the truth,” he added.
Amid the feisty back and forth, the other two Republicans still in the race — Christian conservative Rick Santorum and Texas congressman Ron Paul — faded into the background as the frontrunners dueled it out.
Gingrich — who is also a millionaire but paid a higher tax rate than Romney — has said he merely worked as a “historian” for Freddie Mac. He released his contract with the firm hours before the debate.
Romney meanwhile reported income of $21.7 million in 2010 and $20.9 million last year in tax documents given to the Washington Post and other media outlets ahead of a general release expected later on Tuesday.
The Romney family has given away $7 million in charitable contributions since 2010 — mostly to the Mormon Church — and paid just $6.2 million in federal income taxes, a rate of 13.9 to 15.4 percent, the Post reported.
Romney is thought to be worth between $190 million and $250 million, and critics have questioned his ability to relate to working-class people in an America crawling out of recession with high unemployment.
Romney has struggled to win over conservative Republicans who remain wary of his moderate policies as governor of left-leaning Massachusetts and his changing positions on key issues such as abortion and gay marriage.
But Florida is a far larger and more diverse state than the others which have so far voted, and Romney will be hoping that his campaign war chest and well-oiled machine will give him the edge.
More than 220,000 voters have already cast early ballots, a state party official told AFP. And a Rasmussen poll found Romney was leading in those votes by about 11 percentage points.
Gingrich has battled to close the organizational and monetary deficit, and earlier Monday pointed to seven offices currently open in Florida as well as sterling fundraising efforts.
US media on Monday reported that the wife of a Casino mogul will inject $5 million into a pro-Gingrich campaign group.
A Rasmussen poll found Gingrich was now running at 41 percent in Florida, with Romney at 32 percent. Just last week, Romney had a 22-point lead in the Sunshine State.
A second poll by InsiderAdvantage/Majority Opinion Research had Gingrich leading by 34.4 percent to 25.6 percent.