COLUMBIA, SC (WACH) - Mitt Romney, his poll numbers bolstered by the departed Jon Hunstman, woke up to a bigger lead Tuesday in the South Carolina polls, but he is still dogged by questions.
During a campaign stop in Florence Tuesday morning, Romney faced concerns about releasing his tax return records. Romney, who for weeks has sent mixed messages about releasing those records, pulled back the curtain a bit to reveal more about his personal finances.
"What's the effective rate I've been paying? It's probably closer to the 15 percent rate than anything," Romney told reporters in Florence. "Because my last 10 years, my income comes overwhelmingly from some investments made in the past rather than ordinary income or rather than earned annual income. I got a little bit of income from my book but I gave all of that away. And then I get speaker's fees from time to time but not very much."
Romney has a growing lead according to the latest Rasmussen poll released Tuesday. The numbers show potential South Carolina voters are providing a big gap between Rommey's 35 percent to Newt Gingrich's 21 percent ahead of the January 21 first-in-the-South primary.
At a candidates' forum in Columbia Tuesday put on by the South Carolina Chamber of Commerce, where jobs and the economy were set to be the focus, the three men looking to be the anti-Romney took every chance available to attack the frontrunner. Rick Perry, former Pennsylvania senator Rick Santorum, and Newt Gingrich hammered Romney on his taxes and his private investment firm Bain Capital.
At Monday's debate in Myrtle Beach, Romney defended his claim that he helped create 120,000 jobs at the investment firm, which is more than the 100,000 jobs he's touted in the past.
"The Bain model is to go in at a very low price, borrow an immense amount of money, pay Bain a great deal of money and then leave," Newt Gingrich told the crowd at Tuesday's forum. "Now I'll let you decide if that's really good capitalism. If I don't win the primary Saturday we will probably nominate a moderate and the odds are fairly high he will lose to Obama."
Mitt Romney did not attend Tuesday's forum, he and Ron Paul were absent, and that didn't stop the other hopefuls from firing away at Romney.
"Everyone that wants to be the President of the United States you better get ready for your sheets to get lifted up and to look under there and for people to ask questions," said Rick Perry.
Those lingering questions notwithstanding, Romney is closing in on history. On Saturday he is poised to be the first candidate to ever win Iowa, New Hampshire and South Carolina. However, that doesn't have opponents like Ron Paul backing off. On Tuesday. Paul picked up endorsements from three Upstate senators.
Lowcountry Senator Tom Davis also endorsed Paul over the weekend.
" Of course, he's (Romney) not gonna win the nomination on Saturday," said Paul. "Why should everybody walk away if he wins this primary? You have to wait and see where the delegates are. An election is to get the maximum number of delegates, so yes I will continue to do it."
Still, as Romney looks to pull off a first in South Carolina, he was forced to answer questions about Bain Capital and his taxes, and got testy with reporters in Florence.
"Guys let's do the math. Four companies created 120,000 jobs, OK just get it, very simple," said Romney.
Also on Tuesday, Newt Gingrich picked up the endorsement of embattled South Carolina Lt. Governor Ken Ard. The Lt. Governor is currently under investigation for alleged ethics violations.
Ard said despite an exemplary field of candidates only Gingrich has "the attributes necessary to become the next President of the United States and to lead our country out of this crippling economic crisis."
Have you decided who you are voting for in Saturday's primary? Leave a comment below and tell us why.