Mitt Romney Says He Will 'Probably' Release Taxes in April

PHOTO: Rick Santorum and Mitt RomneyPlayCharles Dharapak/Pool/AP Photo
WATCH Jon Huntsman Bows Out of Presidential Race

Amid continued pressure from his rivals to make public his tax returns, Mitt Romney said at a Republican presidential candidates debate tonight that he will "probably" release that information in April.

That timetable is in line with tradition of past nominees, who have released their information around tax day in early April.

"I have nothing in them that suggests there is any problem," he said. "I'm happy to do so."

Romney had said as recently as Wednesday that he doesn't feel the need to do anything more than the law requires him to do, which is reveal his assets.

Rick Perry took the lead in assailing the former Massachusetts governor, accusing him of dodging the question of tax records and called on him to release them before a nominee is decided.

"My income tax have been out every year. Newt [Gingrich], I think you will let your income tax come out Thursday. And Mitt, we need for you to release your income tax so the people of this country can see how you made your money," the Texas governor said. "Here's the real issue for us as Republicans. We cannot fire our nominee in September. We need to know now."

The other candidates came out swinging at Romney tonight in the 16th debate of this primary season, attacking his leadership at Bain Capital along with his refusal to release tax returns.

Rick Santorum was perhaps Romney's most vocal critic of the evening. He criticized the former governor for not standing up to his super PAC when it ran ads attacking Santorum for giving the right to vote to felons who have served their time.

"If you felt so impassionedly about it that you're going to go out there and have someone criticize me," the former senator said in a testy exchange, "then why didn't you try to change that when you were governor of Massachusetts?"

When Romney responded by dismissing super PACs, the former senator countered: "I would say stop it."

At that point, Perry interjected, "This is a great example of insiders having a conversation here," adding that Washington needs to leave the states alone.

Newt Gingrich also assailed Romney for not countering ads by his super PAC that criticized the speaker's record on abortion.

"Exercise responsibility to take falsehoods off the air," he said.

Romney responded by assailing SuperPACs altogether, saying that he hasn't spoken to the group that supports him in months.

When Rep. Ron Paul was also questioned about his attack ads, particularly against Santorum, the congressman from Texas happily defended them.

"My only regret is I couldn't get in enough in that one minute I had," he said, laughing.

Gingrich attacked the former Massachusetts governor on his record at Bain, and defended his own attack ads in the process.

"It struck me raising those questions, giving me the opportunity to answer them is exactly what campaigns ought to be about," the former House speaker said. "And we need to satisfy the country that whoever we nominate has a record that can stand up to Barack Obama in a very effective way."

Romney, for his part, stood by his record at Bain.

"My record is out there, proud of it," he said.

He also countered Gingrich's claim that he raised taxes as governor, saying that he cut taxes 19 times.

Romney, for his part, kept his focus on the president, attacking his economic and social record and touting his own time as governor and business leader.

"Three years into office, he doesn't have a jobs plan," Romney said of Obama.

Though Romney may remain the frontrunner after tonight's debate, it was Gingrich who drew the debate's only standing ovation. The crowd tonight stood up and cheered the former speaker as he was answering a question about welfare.

Gingrich has taken some heat for suggesting that children in inner city schools should work as janitors to make money. Today he gave the example of his own daughter who, at age 13, worked as a janitor at her church.

The Fox News/Wall Street Journal debate tonight was the first time the Republican candidates took the podium together in South Carolina, where the economic problem is more pronounced than in any other early voting state. The unemployment rate is nearly 10 percent, above the national average of 8.5 percent.

For the Republican candidates, South Carolina is, in many ways, a bellwether of how other southern states will vote in their primaries and caucuses.

The winner in the Palmetto State's Republican primary has gone on to win his party's nomination since it became the "first in the South" GOP primary in 1980. Recognizing its significance, the candidates and their super PACs have spent more than $11 million on television ads in the state, buying up virtually every primetime spot.

Unlike Iowa and New Hampshire, South Carolina is a consistent red state. In the 2008 general election, Sen. John McCain won the Palmetto State, even as President Obama won in the other two.

"This is a red-base state that always votes Republican and if Romney can win a Republican base state, it's a tremendous accomplishment for him," Clemson University professor and author David Woodard said.

The former Massachusetts governor is riding high from a wave of back-to-back successes in Iowa and New Hampshire, the first for a Republican candidate since 1976. And some of his rivals' recent attacks have backfired on them.

Romney is also helped by Jon Huntsman, who ended his campaign this morning. Though Huntsman was unlikely to get many votes -- he was trailing comedian Stephen Colbert, who isn't even on the ballot -- even that handful of votes could give Romney an edge, should the results be close.

But the list of challenges facing the former governor is also long. Huntsman's endorsement could actually be more hurtful than helpful to Romney, who is struggling to sell his conservative credentials to South Carolina voters.

"Being branded or embraced by the moderate candidate in this race is probably not something he was looking forward to doing just a couple of days before the vote in South Carolina," ABC News political director Amy Walter said.

The powerful evangelical group has also yet to back him wholeheartedly.

Santorum, Gingrich and Perry are all counting on evangelicals in South Carolina to boost their candidacies. The ongoing issue is that the religious right has yet to coalesce behind one candidate.

Romney's campaign has been particularly aggressive when it comes to personal outreach. Woodard, a Republican, says he receives two to three calls and about three mailers a day, and that's just from the Romney camp alone.

Several other Republicans, he says, have received messages with personal greetings, which shows that Romney is going out of his way to court voters. The former governor has a difficult task ahead of him, because he is viewed by conservatives with skepticism and continues to be questioned about his views on abortion and health care.

"To win, he's got to create some enthusiasm in the base and he's just not conservative enough to incite the base," Woodard said. "But a victory here says, 'Hey, we got a candidate who can reach across the spectrum here.'"