TAMPA, Fla. — The Republican candidates' fight for Florida and the states beyond stayed at a high boil Tuesday as Newt Gingrich and Mitt Romney each tried to turn a debate night of mutual sniping to his own advantage. At the center of a stew of personal attacks are Romney's investments and tax returns — including a now-closed Swiss bank account — and Gingrich's high-paid consulting work.
Romney, whose net worth is estimated as high as $250 million, closed a bank account in Switzerland in 2010, as he was entering the presidential race, according to records his campaign released Tuesday. He also kept money in the Cayman Islands, another spot popular with investors sheltering their income from U.S. taxes. Aides said Romney didn't avoid tax payments.
The former Massachusetts governor paid about $3 million on nearly $22 million in income in 2010 and indicated his 2011 taxes would be about the same, $3.2 million on nearly $21 million in income.
As Romney 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 mortgage giant 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.
"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 digging into each other's business dealings pleased Rick Santorum, who lags in polls for next week'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."
During the debate, Romney predicted his tax information would generate chatter but not any surprises.
"You'll see my income, how much taxes I've paid, how much I've paid to charity," he said on the debate stage Monday night. "Will it be an article? Yeah. But is it entirely legal and fair? Absolutely. I'm proud of the fact that I pay a lot of taxes."
Romney had declined to disclose any tax releases until he came under mounting criticism from his rivals.
In 2010, he donated a combined $3 million to the Mormon Church and charitable causes and paid about $3 million in federal income taxes for an effective tax rate of about 14 percent, the records showed. For 2011, he'll pay an effective tax rate of about 15.4 percent, a level far lower than standard rates for high-income earners, reflecting the lower rate for long-term capital gains.
The tax records may silence Gingrich and others who argued that Republican voters should know the details of Romney's wealth before they select their presidential nominee and not after. But it also could open up new lines of attack.
In Monday's debate, Gingrich faced harsh questions about his own financial dealings. While comfortable as the aggressor in previous encounters with Romney and their rivals, he found himself battered by Romney's criticism as the pair clashed repeatedly in sometimes personal terms.
"You've been walking around the state saying things that are untrue," Gingrich told Romney.
After Gingrich's overwhelming victory in South Carolina last Saturday, Romney can ill afford to lose Florida's Jan. 31 primary, and he showcased a new aggression from the opening moments of the debate. He said Gingrich had "resigned in disgrace" from Congress after four years as speaker and then had spent the next 15 years "working as an influence peddler."
In particular, he referred to the contract Gingrich's consulting firm had with Freddie Mac, a government-backed mortgage giant that Romney said "did a lot of bad for a lot of people and you were working there."
Romney also said Gingrich had lobbied lawmakers to approve legislation creating a new prescription drug benefit under Medicare.
"I have never, ever gone and done any lobbying," Gingrich retorted emphatically, adding that his firm had hired an expert to explain to employees "the bright line between what you can do as a citizen and what you do as a lobbyist."
Romney counterpunched, referring to the $300,000 that Gingrich's consulting firm received in 2006 from Freddie Mac.
And when Gingrich sought to turn the tables by inquiring about the private equity firm that Romney founded, the former Massachusetts governor replied: "We didn't do any work with the government. ... I wasn't a lobbyist."
Romney will briefly turn his attention Tuesday morning to President Barack Obama, offering a "pre-buttal" to the president's State of the Union address before shifting to Gingrich's work for the federal mortgage giant at a campaign event focused on Florida's housing problems.
Gingrich has a busy day on the campaign trail planned as well, with rallies set for St. Petersburg, Sarasota and Naples.
Rep. Ron Paul, who's bypassing Florida in favor of smaller, less expensive states, returned to Texas after Monday's debate. Santorum will appeal to the tea party to help revive his candidacy, appearing at two tea party events.