Tales from the Trail

Reuters Washington Extra – Behind the numbers

At last night’s debate, Mitt Romney said he’d be happy to release his tax returns in April. But today he disclosed a crucial piece of information as the clamor grew for him to come out with his returns. The frontrunner to clinch the Republican nomination has a tax rate that “is probably closer to 15 percent than anything.”

That’s a low rate, but it is in line with what is paid by wealthy Americans who earn much of their income from capital gains, which are taxed at 15 percent. So, now the number is out and we will see how American voters (and wage earners) react.

Another interesting number from Romney today concerned speaker fees, which he says he collects “from time to time, but not very much.”  Campaign financial disclosure forms indicate that Romney was paid more than $374,000 in speaker fees from February 2010 to February 2011. Not very much, if you are Mitt Romney.

The final numbers to discuss today come from our look into the PAC attacks. The pro-Romney Restore our Future is the champ PAC with $8.1 million spent in this campaign so far. Much of that went toward attacking Newt Gingrich. Restore our Future and other PACs have spent $7.8 million to try to sink him. Compare that to the $3.2 million spent by PACs against Romney. Watch those numbers change, or rather run up, this week in the final charge in South Carolina.

Here are our top stories from Washington…

Mitt Romney may not release tax returns until April

Republican Mitt Romney acknowledged Tuesday that his income tax rate is “probably closer to 15 percent than anything,” suggesting that one of the wealthiest people to ever run for U.S. president pays a much lower rate than most Americans.  His comment, a day after Romney agreed for the first time to release his tax returns — but not until April when they are generally filed — added fuel to his Republican rivals’ calls for him to be more transparent about his finances.

Huntsman’s face still on Republican “Mt Rushmore” sand sculpture

The city of Myrtle Beach went all out for Monday’s Republican debate, even getting sand sculpture artists to build a mini Mount Rushmore of Republican presidential candidates out of sand.

The only problem?

The 1,175,100-pound horseshoe-shaped sand sculpture has the face of Jon Huntsman smack in the middle. His decision to pull out of the race came after the Myrtle Beach area Chamber of Commerce unveiled the sculpture.

Apparently there were no plans to pour water on his image or erase him from the sculpture. After he formally pulled out of the race and endorsed frontrunner Mitt Romney, Huntsman’s face was still there with a big toothy grin smiling at all who walked by.

Inside the Obama fundraising machine: leadership circles

By Eric Johnson

CHICAGO, Jan 14 (Reuters) – President Barack Obama’s re-election campaign and its key supporters are looking to grow on a national scale a fundraising concept that was successful in its Democratic stronghold of Chicago, sources familiar with the program said on Saturday.

Eager to widen its donor base, the Obama campaign is using its team of top fundraisers and donors to distribute marketing materials to thousands of potential top-dollar donors across the nation. Those among them who donate $5,000 — the maximum legal contribution to a presidential candidate in the 2012 cycle — will gain a stream of perks large and small, sources said.

The benefits could include free entry to campaign fundraisers featuring the president, access to strategy sessions at headquarters, and pizza parties at the homes of supporters to watch upcoming voting contests to pick the Republican candidate challenging Obama for the White House in 2012.

Gingrich mocks Romney for speaking French

Presidential candidate Newt Gingrich may have backtracked from a recent campaign ad attacking Romney as a job-killer during his tenure at Bain Capital, but he’s still accusing him of another act that may nettle some conservatives: speaking French.

In a web ad titled “The French Connection,” a deep-voiced narrator describes Romney as a liberal governor who authored government-mandated health care and raised taxes in his state of Massachusetts but who now masquerades as a conservative.

The narrator says, “Massachusetts moderate Mitt Romney, he’ll say anything to win — anything. And just like John Kerry, he speaks French.”

Stephen Colbert: Exploring run for president of USA of South Carolina

Comedy Central host Stephen Colbert announced on his show Thursday night that he is forming an exploratory committee for a “possible candidacy for the president of the United States of South Carolina.”

“This is a difficult decision. I’ve talked it over with my money. I’ve talked it over with my spiritual adviser,” said the comedian who puts on the persona of an ultra-conservative news anchor on his late-night show “The Colbert Report.”

Colbert said he would try to compete in the Republican primary in South Carolina, his home state, on Jan. 21. The filing deadline is long past but Colbert may be able to participate as a write-in candidate.

Colbert bumps Huntsman in South Carolina

Former Utah Governor Jon Huntsman finished a disappointing third on Tuesday in the presidential primary in New Hampshire, despite focusing his campaign on the state and attending some 150 events there. But things are, arguably, worse for him in South Carolina, where a new poll ahead of the state’s Jan. 21 primary put him behind comedian and late-night talk show host, Stephen Colbert.

The survey, by the Democratic polling firm Public Policy Polling, had Colbert in sixth place, with just 5 percent support, in South Carolina’s primary, behind Mitt Romney (27 percent), Newt Gingrich (23 percent), Rick Santorum (18 percent), Ron Paul (8 percent) and Rick Perry (7 percent). But he was ahead of Huntsman’s 4 percent and former Louisiana Gov. Buddy Roemer (1 percent).

It is not completely surprising that Huntsman would trail Colbert, who is from South Carolina and had even offered to sponsor the state’s primary. The Emmy- and Peabody-winning comedian also has name recognition because of his popular Comedy Central Show, the Colbert Report.

Sarah Palin says “first dude went rogue” with Gingrich endorsement

When Todd Palin announced on Monday that he was backing Newt Gingrich for president, some speculated he was acting as a proxy for his wife. Not so, said Sarah Palin on FOX last night.

“First dude went rogue,” Sarah Palin told FOX Business Network’s Eric Bolling when asked whether her husband had consulted her before making the endorsement. “And I respect him for doing that.”

“Todd is all about hard hats and steel-toed boots and getting people to work,” she said. “Todd obviously believing that Newt Gingrich represents more of that connectivity to the working class and to what it’s going to incentivize the private sector to create jobs for the skilled workforce.”

Gingrich discusses pantyhose airlift at defense contractor

Newt Gingrich took a break from attacking Mitt Romney today to visit with workers at defense contractor BAE Systems in Nashua, N.H., where he spent much of his stump speech praising the importance of technology and the military. To illustrate his point, he described a problem special forces soldiers found themselves in after being airlifted into Afghanistan shortly after the Sept. 11 attacks.

When they first got there and started meeting, the Northern Alliance said: ‘We’ll ride in the morning.’ And our guys stared at them, and they said: “What do you mean, we’ll ride in the morning?” And they said we’re going on horseback. So it turned out that the special forces field uniforms have very large inseams which when you ride a horse create a real problem. And they immediately realized that this is going to be physically painful. So they got on the sat phone, called home and found out that if you got extra large, super heavy pantyhose, that three pair provided a buffer when you were riding a horse.”

Gingrich wasn’t telling the story only to conjure images of L’eggs-wearing commandos. “Here’s the deeper point I want to make about this,” he said. “Think about the capacity to encounter a problem you never thought of in the middle of nowhere, and this is Central Asia, pick up the phone, make an order and within 36 hours have an airdrop and not have a clue going in which thing you’ll need this time.”

Huntsman wouldn’t be the only U.S. president to speak Chinese

 

Republican presidential hopeful Jon Huntsman’s language skills have been in the spotlight since Saturday, when he said during a presidential candidates’ debate that his rival Mitt Romney does not understand U.S. relations with China — underscoring his point by saying so in Mandarin.

Huntsman is a former U.S. ambassador to China who learned the language as a Mormon missionary in Taiwan in the late 1980s. His campaign says the former governor of Utah also speaks Hokkien, a Chinese dialect used in Taiwan. 

Polls give Huntsman only a slim chance of making it to the White House, perhaps because some Republican voters view him as too moderate for serving as Democratic President Barack Obama’s emissary in Beijing. He has only about 3 percent support in the race for the Republican nomination to oppose Obama’s re-election bid, according to polls compiled by RealClearPolitics.com.

Santorum’s blinking problem

Insurgent Republican presidential candidate Rick Santorum might have a blinking problem, according to an analysis by a research associate at the University of Minnesota.

Eric Ostermeier, a political scientist who writes the non-partisan Smart Politics blog, said that Santorum blinked at more than twice the rate of the rest of the Republican field during Saturday night’s ABC News presidential debate in Manchester.

’While research may not be settled regarding whether people who lie blink more often than those who tell the truth, potential voters are no doubt more at ease with a candidate who looks them straight in the eyes and does not pepper their speech with repetitive non-verbal tics,” Ostermeier wrote.