Romney defends against rival criticism

Former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney and former House Speaker Newt Gingrich talk at the end of the South Carolina Republican presidential candidate debate in Myrtle Beach, S.C., Monday, Jan. 16, 2012. UPI/Charles Dharapak/Pool
1 of 7 | Former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney and former House Speaker Newt Gingrich talk at the end of the South Carolina Republican presidential candidate debate in Myrtle Beach, S.C., Monday, Jan. 16, 2012. UPI/Charles Dharapak/Pool | License Photo

MYRTLE BEACH, S.C., Jan. 17 (UPI) -- Mitt Romney defended himself against criticism of his conservatism, character and money in a debate ahead of South Carolina's Republican presidential primary.

"My record is out there -- proud of it," Romney said Monday night before a crowd of nearly 3,000 Republicans inside the Myrtle Beach Convention Center.


"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," he said, seeking to fend off attacks about job losses at companies owned by Bain Capital LLC, the private-equity firm he helped found.

Romney highlighted Bain successes, including Staples and the Sports Authority.

But he bristled when Texas Gov. Rick Perry and one of the moderators asked why he had not released his tax returns.


"Mitt, we need for you to release your income tax [returns] so that the people of this country can see how you made your money," Perry said to applause. "As Republicans, we cannot fire our nominee in September. We need to know now."

Romney, who has estimated his net worth at $190 million to $250 million, did not reply until the moderator pressed him later.

"I think I've heard enough from folks saying, "Look, you know, let's see your tax records,'" Romney said. "I have nothing in them that suggests there's any problem and I'm happy to do so. I sort of feel like we're 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'd do."

Releasing tax returns could shed light on the tax rate Romney pays, The New York Times said.

Former House Speaker Newt Gingrich hasn't released his tax returns either, but a spokesman GOP White House hopeful said "he has offered" to do so. Perry has released every return since 1987, nearly every year he has been in public office, his campaign said.


On taxes, all candidates agreed the top rate of federal income taxes should be lower, but disagreed on the number.

Romney for the first time said he would like to lower the top individual tax rate to 25 percent from 35 percent. Until the debate, he had spoken only in broad terms about lowering rates.

Gingrich got a standing ovation when he responded to a question about how long unemployment benefits should last.

He said all such payments should be linked to job training and assailed President Barack Obama for pressing to have unemployment benefits extended.

"Unconditional efforts by the best food-stamp president in American history to maximize dependency is terrible for the future of this country," Gingrich said.

"Every American of every background has been endowed by their creator with the right to pursue happiness," he said. "And if that makes liberals unhappy, I'm going to continue to find ways to help poor people learn how to get a job."

Romney was attacked by former Sen. Rick Santorum of Pennsylvania, who turned the tables on the issue of whether felons should be allowed to vote.

An outside organization supporting Romney, known as a super PAC, has been running ads criticizing Santorum for his support of restoring that right to felons who served their time.


"In the state of Massachusetts, when you were governor, the law was that not only could violent felons vote after they exhausted their sentences, but they could vote while they were on probation and parole, which was a more liberal position than I took," Santorum said. "If in fact, you felt so passionately about this that you are now going to go out and have somebody criticize me for restoring voting rights to people who have -- who have exhausted their sentence and served their time and paid their debt to society, then why didn't you try to change that when you were governor of Massachusetts?"

Romney said he could not have had such a measure passed through a Democratic Legislature.

The debate, sponsored by The Wall Street Journal, Fox News Channel and the Republican Party of South Carolina, took place on the day former Utah Gov. Jon Huntsman abandoned the race and endorsed Romney.

Huntsman was the fourth major GOP candidate to quit, after Rep. Michele Bachmann of Minnesota, businessman Herman Cain and former Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty.

Rep. Ron Paul of Texas was asked if he agreed with Huntsman's parting call for candidates to stop airing attack ads. Paul said he did not.


"If you're exposing a voting record, I think it's quite proper," he said. "There was one ad that we used against Senator Santorum. ... My only regret is that I couldn't get enough in in that 1 minute that I should have."

Latest Headlines