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[Newsmaker] Questions dog challenger to vulnerable president

Mitt Romney, the Republican challenger to President Barack Obama in November’s U.S. presidential election, tried to dampen speculation and political attacks over his finances on Friday with the release of his 2011 tax return and a 20-year overview of tax payments. Last year’s tax return showed that the former governor of Massachusetts paid $1.9 million in taxes on income of $13.6 million, for an effective tax rate of about 14 percent. Romney has indicated that he does not intend to release his tax returns for the years prior to 2010. 
Mitt Romney
Mitt Romney

That Romney, despite wealth of $250 million, could pay a lower percentage of his income in taxes than some middle class Americans has been a major line of attack for the Obama campaign and its allies, which have portrayed the multi-millionaire as out of touch with the general public. This message has been remarkably successful in recent weeks in directing attention away from Obama’s economic record, which by even the most generous of assessments could not be described as inspiring. Unemployment stands at above 8 percent, median family income is down more than $4,000 since the start of Obama’s term and the national debt stands at an astounding $16 trillion.

If Romney is to stand a chance of winning, he will have to make the election about the president’s failure to reinvigorate the economy. How much one man, even if he is the president, can be blamed for a weak economy is a matter of debate, but history shows that Americans tend to hold presidents accountable: No president since Franklin D. Roosevelt has been reelected with unemployment above 7.2 percent. A poll released last week by Associated Press-GfK poll showed that 65 percent of likely voters believe that the economy is worse or no better off than four years ago. Yet, Obama and Romney are still running neck-and-neck in national polls, with the president leading in many key battleground states. Should Romney fail in November, Republicans might well see this as the election that got away.

By John Power  (john.power@heraldcorop.com)
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