A political tip sheet for the rest of us outside the Washington Beltway, for Tuesday, Jan. 17, 2012:
WHAT YOU NEED TO KNOW
ROMNEY AND THE TAX MAN: Mitt Romney says he pays an effective federal tax rate of about 15 percent. That's far less than if his earnings were wages rather than gains from investments and dividends. Romney told reporters he also received some money, but not much, from speechmaking before he announced his presidential candidacy early last year. That "not much" added up to $374,327.62 for the 12 months ending last February, according to previously disclosed records. Romney has been criticized by his rivals for not releasing his tax returns, and he told reporters Tuesday that he planned to release his 2011 returns in April, per recent custom among presidential candidates. The White House took the opportunity to say that President Barack Obama believes that everyone should be paying their fair share, including millionaires, and noted that people making $50,000 or $75,000, $100,000 a year are paying much more than 15 percent. Romney rival Newt Gingrich suggested that the flat tax he is proposing be 15 percent and dubbed "a Mitt Romney flat tax."
SANTORUM TAKES ON EVERYBODY: Searching for traction, Rick Santorum is on the attack these days. On Tuesday alone, he branded Mitt Romney a liberal, said Newt Gingrich's policy positions have been "all over the place" and laughed that Ron Paul has been running for president "since 1938." The more acerbic tone comes as the South Carolina primary looms on Saturday and with polls showing Santorum trailing Romney, the front-runner, and other rivals. In the effort to claw his way to the front of the pack, Santorum coupled his scathing critiques of his rivals on the campaign trail with a new TV ad that compares Romney to President Barack Obama. Meanwhile, Santorum is urging South Carolina conservatives to coalesce around one of their own or face Romney as the GOP nominee. "He's got a lot of money, but he doesn't have the convictions, the authenticity nor the record that is necessary to win this election," Santorum told voters. "Please consolidate." At the same time, he said Gingrich wasn't the best conservative option, arguing that "Newt is bold, but he is all over the place."
GINGRICH RETURNS TO BAIN ISSUE: Newt Gingrich is leveling a forceful new attack on rival Mitt Romney, calling the GOP front-runner's former private equity firm "exploitive." Gingrich had attacked Bain Capital before, but his comments before a gathering of business leaders in Columbia contained some of his harshest rhetoric yet and came just days before the South Carolina primary, a critical benchmark for the Gingrich campaign. The former House speaker said that, in at least some instances, the Bain model has meant "leverage the game, borrow the money, leave the debt behind and walk off with all the profits." He continued: "Now, I'll let you decide if that's really good capitalism. I think it's exploitive. I think it's not defensible." Gingrich has faced rebuke in some quarters as attacking the GOP bedrock of free enterprise in his criticism of Romney and Bain. But he argued Tuesday that raising questions about Romney's track record at Bain should not be confused with an attack on capitalism. He said, "I'm proud of real capitalists."
OBAMA CAMPAIGN EYES TV TIME: President Barack Obama's re-election campaign is requesting advertising rates in a number of key states, a sign that it could be close to airing its first television commercials of the 2012 race. The president's campaign has sought the advertising information in 14 states expected to be heavily contested by Obama and his Republican opponent, including Florida, Ohio and Virginia. No decision has been made on when to begin putting television ads on the air, according to a person familiar with the request who was not authorized to speak publicly about the campaign's internal deliberations and requested anonymity. The Obama campaign has avoided a large ad blitz, limiting its advertising to Web videos and online advertising on the websites of newspapers in Iowa and New Hampshire, the two early nominating states.
A PRAYER FOR OBAMA: Republican presidential candidate Rick Perry took a moment from partisan campaigning in South Carolina to pray for President Barack Obama's safety and wisdom. The Texas governor has had few, if any, kind words for Obama on the campaign trail. Tuesday night during a large prayer gathering in Greenville, S.C., called "The Response" he led a prayer in which he asked God to grant safety to "our president" and his family. He also said that "we pray that you light his way" in dealing with national issues. Perry made no direct mention of the GOP presidential contest or of Saturday's primary during his 10 minutes on stage.
IN THEIR WORDS:
_"What's the effective rate I've been paying? It's probably closer to the 15 percent rate than anything. _ Mitt Romney, who may be worth as much at $250 million, discussing his taxes with reporters.
_"I'm proud of real capitalists. I'm proud of guys who say to their workers I'm in it with you. If I lose money and you lose a job we lost together because we both tried." _ Newt Gingrich, suggesting to voters that Mitt Romney's experience at Bain Capital wasn't real capitalism at work.
_"Newt is bold, but he is all over the place. Attacking capitalism, supporting capitalism. Against global warming, for global warming. We need someone who is bold and consistent." _ Rick Santorum criticizing rival Newt Gingrich.
_"Father, we pray for our president. We pray for his family, we pray for the safety of his family. We pray that you light his way. We pray that you give him wisdom as he deals with the issues that he faces. We pray for the people of this country." _ Rick Perry, offering a prayer for President Barack Obama during a gathering called "The Response" in Greenville, S.C.