Humbled by a stunning loss in South Carolina, Mitt Romney said on Sunday he would release this week the tax returns demanded by rivals as he bids to regain the upper hand in the volatile Republican presidential race.
Romney, the longtime front-runner in the Republican race and one of the wealthiest US presidential candidates in history, lost to a resurgent Newt Gingrich in the conservative Southern state on Saturday after stumbling badly in debates with clumsy responses to demands that he disclose his tax history.
Trying to recapture his footing as the contest heads to more populous and more moderate Florida, Romney said he would release his 2010 returns and an estimate for last year today.
“We made a mistake holding off as long as we did and it just was a distraction,” Romney said on Fox News Sunday.
Romney said the returns would be on the Internet and emphasized he was releasing two years of returns after Gingrich posted 2010 taxes on Thursday.
He slammed Gingrich as a Washington insider, a line of attack he is expected to use going forward, and called on his rival to release details of his contract with the government-sponsored mortgage finance giant Freddie Mac.
Gingrich’s work for Freddie Mac could raise concerns for some voters in Florida, a state that has been hit hard by the downturn in the US real-estate market.
“He talks about great, bold movements and ideas, well what’s he been doing for 15 years? He’s been working as a lobbyist ... that’s selling influence around Washington,” Romney told about 300 supporters in a campaign stop later on Sunday outside Daytona Beach, Florida.
Romney’s tax announcement was meant to draw a line under a bad week punctuated by his own missteps, a surprising turn in an otherwise tightly scripted campaign.
In the midst of a halting response to the tax return controversy, Romney said he paid a rate of about 15 percent, low compared with many US wage earners but in line with what wealthy individuals pay on income from investments.
Gingrich, a former speaker of the House of Representatives with a sharp tongue that played well in debates, pounced on Romney’s weak flank and walloped the former Massachusetts governor by 40 percent to 28 percent in South Carolina.
The Gingrich win reshaped the Republican race and reflected a party sharply divided over how to beat US President Barack Obama in the Nov. 6 election.
There have been three nominating contests so far and Gingrich, Romney and former Senator Rick Santorum have each won one.
A victory in Florida’s primary on Jan. 31 would restore Romney’s luster after South Carolina, and a Gingrich win would solidify him as a serious challenger to the former business executive. A protracted and poisonous Republican battle, in turn, could be a boon to Obama’s re-election bid.
“It’s hard to see it ending soon. It could drag on to April,” said Al Cardenas, the chairman of the American Conservative Union.
Cardenas headed Romney’s campaign in Florida in 2008, but has remained neutral this time.