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Gingrich's Win, Romney's Taxes And What They Mean


Let's turn now to the other big story we're following today, and that is, of course, the fallout from last night's primary triumph for former House Speaker Newt Gingrich. As you know by now, he crushed his opponents, taking 40 percent of the vote, 12 points above his closest rival, the man hitherto known as the front-runner, Mitt Romney.

In a moment, our senior Washington editor Ron Elving on the next phase, Florida, but first to an issue that dogged Romney in South Carolina, and that issue is taxes. He wouldn't release them. But as NPR's Ari Shapiro reports now, the former Massachusetts governor has decided to go ahead and post them online within the next few days.

ARI SHAPIRO, BYLINE: Mitt Romney has been hemming and hawing about his tax returns for weeks. A week ago, he wouldn't say whether he would release them. Monday night he said he would release some in April.

MITT ROMNEY: You know, I don't know how many years I'll release.

SHAPIRO: That line brought boos at a debate in South Carolina. During that debate, Newt Gingrich who had attacked Romney for tiptoeing released his tax returns online. Later in the week, Romney told reporters on the campaign trail that he is taxed at around 15 percent. That's a lower rate than most Americans since Romney's income mostly comes from investments.

Finally, on Fox News this morning, fresh from the South Carolina shellacking, Mitt Romney decided it's time to start ripping off the Band-Aid.


ROMNEY: Given the distraction that I think they became in these last couple of weeks, look, I'm going to make it very clear to you right now, Chris, I will release my tax returns for 2010, which is the last returns that were completed. I'll do that on Tuesday of this week. I'll also release at the same time an estimate for 2011 tax returns.

SHAPIRO: Get ready for some big numbers. Romney is one of the wealthiest men ever to run for president. He has given 10 percent of his income to the Mormon church throughout his life, amounting to millions of dollars. On Fox, he said he hopes people won't hold that against him.

Still, after all the Sturm and Drang around his tax returns, voters may not pay too close attention right off the bat. The campaign decided to release these documents the same day President Obama delivers his State of the Union address. Ari Shapiro, NPR News, Daytona Beach, Florida.

RAZ: And with me now for more on last night and the next 10 days and beyond is NPR's senior Washington editor Ron Elving. Ron, good to have you.

RON ELVING, BYLINE: Good to be with you, Guy.

RAZ: Right now, Newt Gingrich is presenting himself as the most anti-Obama candidate in the field, but I wonder if a big part of what's happening now is a discomfort - I mean, a real discomfort - with Mitt Romney. A lot of Republicans we spoke to last night, as you know, Ron, said no, no, that's not the issue. The issue is who's going to be the best person to face Barack Obama. But I wonder if that's really true.

ELVING: I don't think it would have been possible for Newt Gingrich to connect with South Carolina voters the way he did in the past week, and especially in those two debates, unless that dissatisfaction with Mitt Romney that you mentioned was already there. And the momentum Romney had built up had not been dissipated by his own debate performance, particularly on Monday night, on the tax issue but also his general defensive crouch in that debate.

RAZ: Now, Ron, today, a lot of so-called establishment Republicans are speaking out and saying Newt Gingrich should not be our nominee. Chris Christie said, yeah, this is somebody who has embarrassed the party in the past. We're probably going to hear a lot more of that over the next 10 days. But do you think that this year with superPACs, with a lot of anger, with Tea Party conservatives, do you think the establishment is going to have the same impact that it's had in recent years?

ELVING: The establishment in the Republican Party is clearly no longer in control in the way that it has been in previous years. Usually, the Republican process is wrapped up early, but this year with much more proportionality and most particularly with those later delegate selection dates, so that April, May and June really matter. That's made it possible for other candidates to run against the establishment, and Newt Gingrich is the anti-Obama candidate now.

RAZ: All right. So let's talk about Florida. Right now, Mitt Romney is way ahead of Gingrich in the Florida polls, about where he was in South Carolina 10 days before South Carolina. Of course, his fortunes were reversed. Could the same thing happen in Florida for Mitt Romney?

ELVING: Yes, it could. That polling lead, in fact, is disturbing from the Romney perspective, because if it goes away the way it did in South Carolina, that, too, is going to add fuel to the Gingrich fire. Mitt Romney also expected to have the endorsement of Jeb Bush, the former governor of Florida, Republican. Well, that's not going to happen.

In fact, Jeb Bush announced last night after the results of the South Carolina primary were in that he was not going to endorse in this race. He was going to remain neutral - yet another blow to the inevitability of Mitt Romney.

RAZ: OK, Ron. I am going to ask you about the gossip mill here, because you mentioned Jeb Bush, and every time we interview a Republican operative or strategist, once the mic is off, they say, oh, I think that someone is going to persuade Jeb Bush to run - to jump into this race last minute. An impossibility?

ELVING: Not an impossibility. Not only because the party is divided, also because so many delegates are being chosen late, it would be possible for a late starting candidate to enter the caucuses and compete. So the prospect exists.

RAZ: That's NPR's senior Washington editor Ron Elving giving us a preview of what to expect over the next 10 days, although who knows? Ron, thanks so much.

ELVING: Thank you, Guy. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.