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Anxious that Democrats are gaining an edge with voters, Republicans are pressuring Mitt Romney to reveal more about his income taxes and his record at Bain Capital LLC as his campaign strategists weigh how to respond.
“If you have things to hide, then maybe you’re doing things wrong,” Alabama Governor Robert Bentley, a Republican, told reporters at the National Governors Association meeting on July 14. “I think you ought to be willing to release everything to the American people.”
The calls come as top Romney aides discuss how to manage the tax-return issue in a way that refocuses the political debate on Obama’s economic and job creation record. The decision whether to release more personal financial information, one adviser said, rests with Romney. So far, he has remained firm in his decision not to disclose any tax information beyond his 2010 and 2011 filings.
“We’re going to put out two years of tax returns,” Romney said this morning on Fox News’s “Fox and Friends” program, adding that the 2008 Republican presidential nominee, Senator John McCain of Arizona, had also released only two years of returns. Romney said his 2010 return is out already and the 2011 return -- “hundreds of pages of documents” -- will be released when it is completed.
“None of those tax returns are required by law to be put out,” he said. “What is required, the financial disclosure, has already been made.”
President Barack Obama and his surrogates spent last week questioning Romney’s veracity when 2002 Securities and Exchange Commission records surfaced that listed him as Bain’s chief executive officer -- three years after he said he had quit running the company and during a period when the firm fired workers and outsourced jobs overseas.
Obama’s camp used the SEC discrepancy to also draw attention to Romney’s bank accounts and investments in Switzerland and Bermuda. The two-pronged attack is part of an effort to depict Romney as secretive about his wealth and business practices, and shift the focus away from the slow economic recovery.
“Either the filing with the SEC is accurate and his personal financial disclosure is not honest, or that’s honest and the SEC isn’t, but both can’t be accurate,” said Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel, a former White House chief of staff, on ABC’s “This Week.”
The attacks are making Republican party strategists increasingly uneasy, as they watch the candidate and his surrogates struggle to respond.
In an interview on CNN yesterday, Ed Gillespie, a senior campaign adviser, said Romney retired “retroactively” after initially thinking he was leaving the firm temporarily.
“There may have been a thought at the time that he could be part-time,” he said on “State of the Union.” “He took a leave of absence and, in fact, he ended up not going back at all and retired retroactively to February of 1999.”
That explanation contrasted with Romney’s own recounting of events two days earlier, when the campaign hastily scheduled interviews on all five evening television newscasts to address the charges. Romney said in the July 13 interviews that he retired from all management duties at Bain in 1999, although he failed to provide an explanation for the SEC filings dating to 2002.
In an interview this morning, Romney said he was “very proud” of his business record, charging the president with trying to distract from economic issues.
“I’d say to the president, ‘Wouldn’t it be interesting, Mr. President, wouldn’t it be interesting if you spent some time speaking about your record?’” he said in an interview on Fox News.
Romney’s campaign also started a new wave of television commercials to criticize the Democratic attacks, releasing an ad yesterday that says the tenor of Obama’s campaign conflicts with his 2008 message of “hope and change.”
“Whatever happened to hope and change,” CBS News host Bob Schieffer is seen asking, in a television clip.
At the same time, Romney’s team has tried to downplay concerns that they were losing ground in the race. In a memo publicly released this morning, Romney’s pollster, Neil Newhouse, says that even after being outspent by more than two to one, the race has tightened.
Those steps have failed to stem grumbling among Republicans that Romney isn’t effectively answering questions raised by Obama’s campaign or presenting a compelling case for his election.
“He should release the tax returns tomorrow. It’s crazy,” said Republican commentator Bill Kristol, who recently attended a weekend-long retreat for top Romney donors and strategists, on “Fox News Sunday” yesterday. “You gotta release six, eight, 10 years of back tax returns.”
The Romney campaign sees a more complicated political calculation. It must weigh the benefits of greater transparency against the potential damage the returns could cause if they reveal politically-edgy investments or evidence that the candidate used the tax system to significantly reduce his payment rates, aides familiar with the deliberations said.
Romney’s team doesn’t want to do anything that would further distract from their strategy of making the election about Obama’s stewardship of the economy. And they worry about slipping into a political trap set by their rivals, advisers said.
As Romney considers a path forward, campaign advisers said a major strategic shift is not under consideration.
“The plan was always that when the president attacked and it was an attack that mattered that he would counter-punch,” said Charlie Black, a Republican campaign strategist who is advising Romney.
Romney gave in to public pressure during the Republican primaries to release his 2010 tax return and has said he will disclose his 2011 filing later this year, when it is complete. His father, George, released 12 years of returns when he ran for president in 1968, and Mitt Romney gave 23 years of filings to Republican presidential nominee Senator John McCain when he was under consideration for the vice presidency during the 2008 race.
Thus far, Romney has said repeatedly that he has no intention of releasing additional returns. “That’s -- that’s all that’s necessary for people to understand something about my finances,” he said in his June 13 interview with CNN.
The candidate spent much of the weekend relaxing with family at his lakeside home in Wolfeboro, New Hampshire. News photographers captured him working outside on his iPad and escaping with some his grandchildren for an afternoon boat ride on Lake Winnipesaukee.
Romney is spending only a portion of his time attending campaign events, as he nears the final stages of his search for a vice president and prepares for a trip to Europe on July 24. He has two appearances planned in Ohio and Pennsylvania this week, limiting his public opportunities to push his campaign message and respond to the Democratic attacks.
Meanwhile, Obama campaign aides say they plan to keep hammering his business record and keep up a drumbeat of questions about when, exactly, Romney left Bain.
A new ad released by the Obama campaign this weekend, set to footage of Romney singing “America the Beautiful,” charges Romney with outsourcing jobs and stashing money in off-shore accounts.
“They want to talk about anything but President Obama’s dismal record when it comes to the economy, and it’s working,” Gillespie responded.
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