Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney is in real trouble, as issues related to his wealth and tax returns have started rocking his otherwise smooth sailing campaign in the Republican race. Romney was forced to say that he would release his tax returns for the year in April, in the CNN-Charleston, South Carolina, debate.
The moderator for the debate, John King prodded him further asking whether he would follow his father's footsteps, who released his tax returns of ten years in 1968 when he was a presidential candidate. Romney looked hesitant and said he might do the same.
It's too late for Romney to recover from the damage the tax returns controversy has inflicted on him as far as the South Carolina primary is concerned. The cloud of secrecy that surrounded his tax returns and his refusal to disclose his wealth and returns has provided enough arsenal to his rivals. Making tax returns public is a gesture of transparency that voters expect from presidential candidates.
The Interesting point to be noted here is that inspite of his drastically downsliding support, he still hesitates to reveal the returns immediately. His desire to keep his wealth and tax returns secret are hurting his chances in the primary in a big way. If he doesn't salvage the campaign at the earliest, he may find himself limping and licking his wounds in this battle.
A win at South Carolina would have probably sealed his presidential candidacy and with the double digit lead he had before the tax return controversy erupted, it looked like he was inevitably the chosen one.
Now the Republican race has turned unpredictable not just in South Carolina, but in other states as well. The controversy, in fact, has rejuvenated Gingrich's chances in the primary.
In the CNN debate Gingrich released his returns which showed he paid tax at the rate of 31 percent, which is almost double Romney's indicated tax rate. The audience of the debate jeered Romney when he said he may submit it in April.
It is clear from latest trial poll results that those South Carolina voters who did not care much for the allegations over his Bain Capital days are taking the tax returns issue seriously, much to the dismay of Romney camp.
Rick Perry's support to Gingrich will also negatively impact Romney's chances as it will lead to consolidation of conservative votes in favor of Gingrich. That can further bleed Romney's chances, as scattered evangelical and conservative vote base is crucial for Romney's win.
Gingrich, on the other hand, smarting up from the new prospects and endorsements, will only be too happy to exploit the tax returns issue to the maximum in the available time, before the state goes for polls. Even the much-hyped interview by his ex-wife, in which she accused him of asking to be in an open marriage, has failed to make much impact with the voters.
However, the fiery battle also exposes the vulnerability of all the Republican candidates to allegations and casts doubts over their ability to fight an incumbent President Barack Obama.