Money talk dominating Romney, Gingrich contest

TAMPA, Fla. (AP) — Mitt Romney and Newt Gingrich’s fight for Florida and the states beyond stayed at a high boil Tuesday as Romney released tax returns showing annual income topping $20 million — including a now-closed Swiss bank account — and Gingrich insisted his high-paid consulting work for a mortgage giant that contributed to the housing crisis didn’t include lobbying.

After a night of mutual sniping in a debate, the two leading GOP presidential candidates tried to turn the arguments over their various business dealings to his own advantage. Romney’s release of two years’ worth of tax documents, showing him at an elite level even among the nation’s richest 1 percent, kept the focus on the two men’s money and how they earned it.

As the former Massachusetts governor relented to pressure and released more than 500 pages of tax documents, Gingrich kept up the heat, saying Romney was “outrageously dishonest” for accusing him of influence peddling for government-backed mortgage giant Freddie Mac.

“I don’t own any Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac stock. He does, so presumably he was getting richer,” Gingrich told Fox News on Tuesday.

The specter of well-off Gingrich and wealthier Romney feuding over money matters pleased Rick Santorum, who lags in polls for next Tuesday’s Florida primary but hopes to benefit from the dust-up as the race moves on. He told MSNBC: “The other two candidates have some severe flaws.”

Striking out in two directions, Romney planned to offer advance criticism of President Barack Obama’s Tuesday night State of the Union address, then focus on Florida’s housing woes in an event sure to again highlight Gingrich’s $25,000 monthly retainer from Freddie Mac.

The former House speaker said Romney’s charges were ironic, given that it was revealed after Monday’s debate that Romney himself was an investor in both Freddie Mac and its sister entity, Fannie Mae.

Gingrich, a candidate once left for dead, stood before thousands in a U.S. flag-draped airport hangar in Sarasota brimming with confidence about his chances of winning the GOP nomination. He barely mentioned Romney in two events, though he went hard at Obama as the president prepared for his big speech.

Gingrich said Obama should stop blaming his Republican predecessor for the country’s economic woes.

“This is the fourth year of his presidency. He needs to get over it,” Gingrich said. “A friend of mine says, ‘He has shifted from Yes We Can to Why We Couldn’t.’”

During Tuesday’s debate, Romney predicted his tax information would generate chatter but not any surprises, saying what he paid was “entirely legal and fair.”

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