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Romney Says His Effective Tax Rate Is ‘Probably’ 15%

FLORENCE, S.C. — Under new pressure to release his tax returns, Mitt Romney on Tuesday acknowledged that he pays an effective tax rate of about 15 percent because so much of his fortune comes from past investments.

Mitt Romney - Iowa Caucuses
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Mitt Romney - Iowa Caucuses

“It’s probably closer to the 15 percent rate than anything,” Mr. Romney said. “Because my last 10 years, I’ve — my income comes overwhelmingly from some investments made in the past, whether ordinary income or earned annually.”

The vast majority of the income Mr. Romney reported over 12 months in 2010 and ’11 was dividends from investments, capital gains on mutual funds and his post-retirement share of profits and investment returns from Bain Capital, the firm he once led. And Mr. Romney also noted that he made hundreds of thousands of dollars from speaking engagements.

“I got a little bit of income from my book, but I gave that all away,” Mr. Romney told reporters after an event here. “And then I get speakers’ fees from time to time, but not very much.”

Financial disclosure forms that candidates are required to file annually shows that Mr. Romney earned $374,327.62 in speakers’ fees from February of 2010 to February of 2011, at an average of $41,592 per speech. That acknowledgement came as Mr. Romney sought to keep the upper hand in his bid to swiftly wrap up the Republican presidential nomination, urging voters here on Tuesday morning to take the long view and begin focusing on defeating President Obama in the fall.

But his rivals seized on his reluctance to release his tax returns as evidence that he is hiding something from the voters of South Carolina.

Newt Gingrich called “nonsensical” the suggestion by Mr. Romney on Tuesday that he would consider releasing his tax returns in April, after he might already have secured his party’s nomination.

“What is he saying to the people of South Carolina? You’re not important enough for me to release my income tax, nor the people of Florida?” Mr. Gingrich told reporters in Florence. “Either there is nothing there, so why isn’t he releasing it, or there is something there so why he is hiding it?”

Mr. Romney has for months refused to release his tax returns and said last month that he did not intend to do so. He wavered on the subject in Monday’s debate, saying, “I’m not opposed to doing that” but adding that “time will tell.”

By Tuesday morning, Mr. Romney said that April’s tax season seemed to be the appropriate month for such a disclosure, and that he was following “tradition” from previous presidential races.

“And I know that if I’m the nominee, people will want to see the most recent year, and see what happened in the most recent year and what things are up to date and so they’ll want to see the tax returns that come out in April,” Mr. Romney said. “So rather than sort of have multiple releases of tax returns, why, we’ll wait until the tax returns for the most recent year are completed, then release them.”

Mr. Romney’s comments came as the five Republican candidates set off Tuesday on a whirlwind round of appearances to make their appeals to voters across South Carolina, where the outcome of the primary on Saturday will help determine the length of the party’s nominating contest. The candidates were scheduled to appear at a total of 18 events across the state.

The intense activity on the ground follows Monday night’s contentious nationally televised debate and comes as the candidates and “super PACs” continue to blast voters in this state with millions of dollars of campaign commercials, many of them attack ads.

Representative Ron Paul of Texas released an ad hammering Mr. Gingrich as a “serial hypocrite,” Rick Santorum as a “counterfeit conservative” and Mr. Romney as a “flip-flopper.”

Mr. Santorum on Monday night unveiled his latest ad, a direct assault on Mr. Romney’s conservative credentials that likens the positions of Mr. Romney, a former Massachusetts governor, to Mr. Obama’s policies.

“Obama supported the Wall Street bailouts, so did Romney,” says a male narrator. “Obama gave us radical ‘Obamacare’ that was based on ‘Romneycare.’ Obama’s a liberal on social issues. Romney once bragged he’s even more liberal than Ted Kennedy on social issues.”

Mr. Santorum on Tuesday lit into Mr. Romney, accusing him of “playing dirty, dishonest politics.”

Mr. Santorum exhibited flashes of genuine anger when a reporter informed him that Mr. Romney had defended a super PAC commercial that accuses Mr. Santorum of supporting giving felons the right to vote. (He supported letting them do so only after completing their sentences, parole or probation.)

“I’m stunned, I’m actually stunned,” Mr. Santorum said when asked about Mr. Romney’s support for the super PAC charges during an interview Monday on Fox News. “He needs to quit playing dirty politics.”

Speaking before a town-hall-style meeting on the U.S.S. Yorktown in Mount Pleasant, Mr. Santorum was joined by state Senator Larry Grooms, who switched his allegiance to Mr. Santorum from Mr. Perry. Mr. Grooms complained that he had received a recorded phone call from the Romney campaign that appears to include a current-day endorsement of Mr. Romney by Mr. Santorum, but which in fact borrows from Mr. Santorum’s 2008 endorsement of him.

Before giving an address aboard the Yorktown that was largely focused upon national security, Mr. Santorum noted that Mr. Romney had previously supported abortion rights and warned the party that it would be making a mistake in nominating “a moderate” like Mr. Romney — the same way, he said, it did when it nominated former Senator Bob Dole and Senator John McCain.

Mr. Romney, who drew a small crowd here in Florence at a morning rally, used the event to push back against the suggestion from his rivals that he would not offer a sharp contrast to Mr. Obama. He renewed his opposition to same-sex marriage and pledged to represent conservative values in Washington.

“You’re seeing in this country a remarkably stark choice between two very different paths,” Mr. Romney told the small crowd. The event was the only one for Mr. Romney in South Carolina on Tuesday. He planned to fly to New York City for an evening fund-raiser. His rivals planned to press on in the state, seeking some way to slow Mr. Romney’s momentum.

Mr. Gingrich greeted a rousing crowd across town in Florence. He reminded Republicans of the importance of their vote on Saturday and pointedly suggested his rivals could not win. “If South Carolina allows a moderate to become our nominee, I think it’s much harder to defeat Obama,” Mr. Gingrich said. “If we win on Saturday, I think I will be the nominee. Any vote for Santorum or Perry, in effect, is a vote to let Romney become the nominee.” A target for rivals of Mr. Romney on Tuesday was his reluctance to release his federal tax returns. Mr. Romney wavered on the subject during the debate on Monday, saying that “if that’s been the tradition, then I’m not opposed to doing that. Time will tell. But I anticipate that most likely I’m going to get asked to do that around the April time period, and I’ll keep that open.”

Mr. Gingrich slammed Mr. Romney on Tuesday morning for that answer.

“If you’re a South Carolinian, you say, ‘Wait a second, why don’t you want me to know about it? Why are you going to wait until after I’ve voted?’ Last night he conceded in principle that he owes it to the public to share it — strikes me he ought to do it before South Carolina votes,” Mr. Gingrich said on “CBS This Morning.”

Mr. Gingrich also made a pointed pitch Tuesday for Mr. Santorum to consider leaving the race.

“Rick is a good friend of mine and he’s a nice man, but he lost his state for re-election by the largest margin in the history of Pennsylvania,” Mr. Gingrich told reporters in Florence. “There is no evidence that he can put together a national majority.”

He added, “I want to be respectful that Rick has every right to run as long as he feels that’s what he should do, but from the standpoint of the conservative movement, consolidating into the Gingrich candidacy would, in fact, virtually guarantee victory on Saturday. I’d be delighted if either Perry or Santorum would do that.”

Invited by reporters earlier at the Yorktown event to ask Mr. Gingrich and Mr. Perry to leave the race, Mr. Santorum declined.

“I’m not going to ask anybody to drop out of the race,” he said, though he added, “A lot of the campaigns have some severe problems that make their candidacies against Barack Obama not the best foot forward for the Republican Party."

Ashley Parker reported from Florence, S.C., and Michael D. Shear from Washington. Jim Rutenberg contributed from Mount Pleasant, S.C., and Jeff Zeleny from Florence, S.C.