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Romney lead slips on tax-return demands

Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney speaks at a rally at Winthrop University in South Carolina

CHARLESTON, S.C., Jan. 19 (UPI) — Pressure on Mitt Romney to release his U.S. income tax returns increased Thursday as Newt Gingrich vowed to release his returns ahead of the evening’s debate.

The former House speaker, who promised to keep the tax issue alive during the 2-hour debate beginning at 8 p.m. EST in Charleston, S.C., said he paid almost a third of his earnings to the federal government, unlike the former Massachusetts governor, who said Tuesday he paid about 15 percent in income taxes.

Former U.S. Sen. Rick Santorum of Pennsylvania said he would release his returns too, while Texas Gov. Rick Perry, who has already released his returns, said Republican voters needed to vet Romney’s tax records to determine if he would “get eaten alive” against President Barack Obama.

Obama reported paying an effective federal tax rate of 26 percent on his 2010 family income.

One of Romney’s best-known supporters, New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, urged Romney to release his tax returns “sooner rather than later.”

Romney, who has said he would release the returns sometime around April, has received “direct private pressure” to deal with the issue immediately, Republicans close to the campaign told The Washington Post.

The conservative National Review called for the returns’ swift release, describing the former Massachusetts governor’s response to a question about the matter in Monday’s Myrtle Beach, S.C., debate, “the weakest moment in his weakest debate.”

A Rasmussen Reports daily presidential tracking poll of likely voters, taken Tuesday after the debate, shows a dramatic rebound nationally for Gingrich. It puts Romney at 30 percent, Gingrich at 27 percent, Santorum at 15, Rep Ron Paul of Texas at 13 and Perry at 4 percent.

The poll has a margin of error of 3 percentage points.

A CNN/Time/ORC International poll released Wednesday indicates 33 percent of likely Republican South Carolina primary voters back Romney — a 10 percentage point lead over Gingrich. Romney had a 19 point lead two weeks ago.

Santorum has 16 percent, Paul has 13 percent and Perry has 6 percent, the poll indicates.

The sampling error is 4.5 percentage points.

Romney sought to return fire on Gingrich Wednesday, calling the former speaker’s tenure in Washington “leadership by chaos” and likening him to former Vice President Al Gore.

“It’s the private sector that creates jobs,” Romney said at a Spartanburg, S.C., rally. “Congressmen taking responsibility or taking credit for helping create jobs is like Al Gore taking credit for the Internet.”

In Rock Hill, S.C., he referred to Gingrich’s attacks on his record at his buyout firm, Bain Capital LLC, saying, “It’s not the way to build a strong economy to tear down fellow Americans or to attack capitalism.”

Gingrich told a crowd in Warrenville, S.C., to watch out for the Romney campaign between now and Saturday, when the primary is held.

“I think they will be unendingly dirty and dishonest … because they’re desperate,” he said. “I think they have internal polls that show them losing.”

Gingrich had his own worries Thursday — an ABC News interview with his ex-wife, Marianne.

Gingrich’s two daughters, Kathy Lubbers and Jackie Cushman, wrote to ABC News after reports surfaced the network would air an interview with the candidate’s second ex-wife before the primary.

The letter did not request ABC reconsider the interview’s airing or timing, but it said ABC News would be talking “about the past, just days before an important primary election,” while their father would talk “about the future — about job creation, lower taxes and about who can defeat Barack Obama by providing the sharpest contrast to his damaging, extreme liberalism.”

It was unclear what the broadcast interview would focus on.

An ABC spokesman said on Twitter Wednesday night the interview would air after the debate on “Nightline,” with excerpts airing before the debate.

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