Tales from the Trail

Romney presses Gingrich on Freddie Mac fees

Mitt Romney’s presidential campaign is turning the tables on Newt Gingrich, putting the squeeze on the former House Speaker to disclose details of his financial relationship with Freddie Mac.

The Romney camp scheduled a conference call Monday morning to talk to reporters about Gingrich’s work as a “historian” (quote marks supplied by the campaign) for the government-owned mortgage finance giant.

Romney campaign surrogates former Minnesota Governor Tim Pawlenty and Will Weatherford, Speaker Designate of the Florida House of Representatives, will be on the conference call — with the call code name “Definitely Not a Lobbyist.”

Gingrich has said he never worked as a lobbyist since stepping down as House Speaker in 1999. The question of whether Gingrich was a lobbyist came up during a Republican presidential debate in November. The former House Speaker initially said he was retained by Freddie Mac as a historian but later acknowledged he’d received consulting fees from the financially troubled mortgage giant for providing “strategic advice.”

(Read Sam Youngman’s story for more on what Gingrich has said about payments from Freddie Mac.)

Newt Super PAC imagines Romney-Obama debate

A Pro-Newt Super PAC posted an animated version of how a general debate between President Barack Obama and Mitt Romney as the Republican nominee would look.

The video titled “Obama’s Dream Debate” shows a cartoon Obama, voiced remarkably well, not only trouncing Romney in a debate but pointing out just how much the two have in common.

Winning Our Future is the same PAC that made a short campaign film attacking Romney as a “corporate raider” while head of Bain Capital, an ad Gingrich eventually asked to be pulled because of inaccuracies.

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.

Oops again? Rick Perry revises his list of three departments to cut

Lagging Republican presidential hopeful Rick Perry can’t seem to catch a break. The Texas governor is facing criticism across the blogosphere for again flubbing the federal departments he would eliminate if elected.

On a radio show on WTKS in Savannah, Georgia, a listener asked Perry how many and which federal departments he would cut.

“Three right off the bat. You know, commerce, interior, and energy are three that you think of right off…” Perry said, making a point not to miss a beat.

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.

Washington Extra – Keeping it positive, not

It’s a cruel world out there, what with these Super PACs. Just ask Newt Gingrich, the candidate who promised to stick to the positive message. Battered by weeks of negative ads from a Super PAC and plummeting poll numbers, Gingrich took a sharp detour off the high road in the final hours of campaigning in Iowa.

Gingrich called putative Republican frontrunner Mitt Romney a liar because he tries to distance himself from the ad-spewing PAC created by Romney staff and funded by his millionaire friends. “It’s baloney,” Gingrich said.

Romney in turn mocked Gingrich, telling him to toughen up and get some broader shoulders. “If you can’t stand the heat of this little kitchen, wait for the hell’s kitchen that’s coming from Barack Obama,” he responded.

Gingrich attacks Romney, a week after promising a positive campaign

A week ago, Newt Gingrich vowed to follow Ronald Reagan’s famed “11th Commandment” and withhold attacks on fellow Republican candidates for president.

But last night his campaign e-mail blasted reporters a lengthy opposition sheet on former Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney, ripping Romney’s latest television ad, “Conservative Agenda.”

In the oppo sheet, the Gingrich campaign calls Romney “Mitt the Massachusetts Moderate” and highlights a number of his past, more moderate positions that may be at odds with his current stances. These include Romney’s health care reforms in Massachusetts, his support for universal health insurance and abortion rights, his vote for Democrat Paul Tsongas in his 1992 bid for president and his renunciation of the Reagan/Bush era.

Washington Extra – Black box

For the past week or so, we’ve watched Democrats and Republicans playing chess on the payroll tax cuts, trying to outmaneuver each other and gain the upper hand in this final bitter budget battle of 2011. Today, it looks like the match moved off the chessboard and into the unknown.

In this vacuum, people are struggling to know what happens next. Eric Lascelles, chief economist at RBC Global Asset Management in Toronto, told us his confidence that the tax cut will be extended in 2012 “is beginning to waver.”

“As usual,” he added, “the political process is such a black box it’s hard to credibly put odds on this.”

Omen for Huntsman in Brady-Tebow duel?

There was a twist on the Tim Tebow relationship with the presidential race on Sunday.

Mary Kaye Huntsman, wife of Republican White House hopeful Jon Huntsman, wore a Tom Brady New England Patriots jersey to her husband’s “town hall” meeting in Plaistow, NH.

As for whether the Florida native really loves the Boston-area team? The wife of the former Utah governor and Chinese ambassador was diplomatic: “We’re spending so much time in New England that I’ve grown to love New England.”

As Iowa finishline nears, Perry compares self to Tebow

In the final debate before the Iowa caucuses, Rick Perry compared himself to Tim Tebow, the most-talked about quarterback in the NFL.

At the debate in Sioux City, the Texas governor said he was hoping to stage a late-game comeback — just like the Denver Broncos quarterback who has thrilled fans (and defied critics) with a string of wins after trailing in the fourth quarter.

“You know, there are a lot of people out there — I understand it. There are a lot of folks that said Tim Tebow wasn’t going to be a very good NFL quarterback.