Romney lowers his victory hopes in South Carolina
GILBERT WITH the crucial Republican presidential primary in South Carolina just hours away, longtime front-runner Mitt Romney is acknowledging what some opinion polls are suggesting: He could lose on Saturday.
The idea that the former governor of liberal Massachusetts may not win the primary in a state where conservative evangelical Christians make up about 60 percent of Republican voters isn’t that surprising.
But Romney’s path to a neckand- neck finish with former House of Representatives Speaker Newt Gingrich has begun to look like a lost opportunity, defined by Romney’s reluctance to reveal more about his vast wealth and his repeated inability to explain why.
The former private equity executive’s discomfort in discussing such personal matters was again evident in Thursday night’s debate in Charleston.
When asked whether he would release 12 years of tax returns as his father, George, had done while running for president in 1968, Romney said through a thin smile, “Maybe.” The answer drew a few catcalls from the conservative audience, and contrasted sharply with how Gingrich deftly turned a question about cheating on his second wife into an attack on the media that drew a standing ovation.
It may have been the defining moment of the campaign in South Carolina, the third contest in the state-by-state race to determine who will face Democratic President Barack Obama in the November 6 elections.
As Romney tried to pump up supporters’ enthusiasm Friday and launched new attacks on Gingrich, a question hung over Romney’s campaign: Why does he have such difficulty answering questions about his money? His wealth, now an estimated $270 million, has been an issue during his previous runs for office — notably in 1994, when he lost a U.S. Senate race to incumbent Democrat Ted Kennedy.
Romney said Friday that he has been more focused on campaign issues such as jobs and the economy, and acknowledged that he may not have handled questions about his finances as well as he could have.
“I can’t possibly tell you that everything I do in the campaign is perfect,” he told reporters here. Voters, pundits and others offered other theories about his problems dealing the issue of his finances.
Like Gingrich, some questioned whether Romney has something to hide.
Perhaps the most intriguing theory came from Michael Kranish and Scott Helman, co-authors of a new book on Romney called “The Real Romney.” During an interview on CNN, Kranish said a Romney family member told the authors that Romney’s cautious manner while campaigning — which can make him seem distant and stiff — partly reflects a lesson he learned from his father.