According to The New York Times, Mitt Romney withstood forceful attacks during a debate here on Monday evening, with his Republican rivals lining up to question his job-creation record, wealth and character, as they implored voters to scrutinize his candidacy more deeply before allowing him to sail to the party’s presidential nomination.
Newt Gingrich, Rick Perry and Rick Santorum questioned Romney’s accomplishments and urged voters to take a critical look at the former Massachusetts governor as they tried to halt his growing momentum in the race to pick a challenger to President Barack Obama.
“We need to satisfy the country that whoever we nominate has a record that can stand up to Barack Obama in a very effective way,” said Newt Gingrich.
“My record is out there — proud of it,” Mr. Romney said. “I think that if people want to have someone who understands how the economy works, having worked in the real economy, then I’m the guy that can best post up against Barack Obama.”
“Mitt, we need for you to release your income tax so that the people of this country can see how you made your money,” said Gov. Rick Perry of Texas. “As Republicans, we cannot fire our nominee in September. We need to know now.”
Mr. Romney, a multimillionaire who has declined to release returns that could shed new light on the tax rate that he pays, said he would consider reversing course. But he said he would not do so until April, by which point the Republican competition may well be over.
“I looked at what has been done in campaigns in the past with Sen. McCain and President George W. Bush and others,” he said, according to The Huff Post. “They have tended to release tax records in April or tax season. I hadn’t planned on releasing tax records, because the law requires us to release all of our assets — all of the things we own — that I’ve already released. It’s a pretty full disclosure.”
“But you know, if that’s been the tradition, I’m not opposed to doing that,” he added. “Time will tell. But I anticipate that most likely I am going to get asked to do that around the April time period and I’ll keep that open.”
When asked again whether he was agreeing to release them, Romney replied, “I think I’ve heard enough from folks saying, ‘Look, let’s see your tax records.’ I have nothing in them that suggests there’s any problem, and I’m happy to do so. I sort of feel like we are showing a lot of exposure at this point. And if I become our nominee, and what’s happened in history is people have released them in about April of the coming year and that’s probably what I would do.”
Just hours before the debate former Utah Governor Jon Huntsman dropped out of the Republican race and endorsed Romney, bolstering his drive for his party’s nomination. Romney won the first two state nominating contests in Iowa and New Hampshire this month, reports Reuters.
Rick Santorum stayed away from the clash over taxes, instead starting a dispute of his own. He said a campaign group supporting Romney has been attacking him for supporting voter rights for convicted felons, and asked Romney what his position was on the issue.
Santorum, a former U.S. senator who is battling Gingrich and Perry for the support of conservatives unwilling to back the more moderate Romney, criticized Romney’s Super PAC funding group for airing ads that he said made false claims about his record.
Romney said he had no control over the outside Super PAC, which has spent millions in Iowa, New Hampshire and South Carolina on tough ads criticizing Gingrich and Santorum.
“If they ever run an ad or say something that is not accurate, I hope they either take off the ad or make it correct,” Romney said.
Libertarian U.S. Representative Ron Paul drew boos from the crowd during a discussion of Afghanistan and the Taliban when he said the United States should be careful about intervening in foreign lands.
“This country doesn’t need another war,” he said. “We need to quit the ones we’re in.”
Romney leads polls in South Carolina, and a win here on Saturday would put him on an almost certain path to clinching the nomination to face Obama in November.
The candidates will get another crack at Romney at a debate in Charleston on Thursday, less than 48 hours before South Carolina Republicans start voting.