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2012: Rivals go after Romney

“Romney came under fierce attacks in a crucial debate Monday, with his opponents calling him to release his income tax returns, criticizing his business decisions, and questioning his conservative credentials,” the Boston Globe writes.

AP’s Espo: “Under heavy debate pressure from his rivals, Republican presidential front-runner Mitt Romney defended his record as a venture capitalist, insisted he bears no responsibility for attack ads aired by his allies and grudgingly said in campaign debate Monday night he might release his income tax returns this spring.”

“For all its success in congressional races, the GOP's right wing repeatedly has failed to unite behind a ‘movement conservative’ to be the party's White House nominee. It happened in 2008 with John McCain, and in 1996 with Bob Dole,” AP writes. “Now social conservatives fear it's happening again in, of all places, South Carolina, virtually the heartland of the tea party.”

The New York Times’ front-page headline (accompanied by a behind-the-scenes style photo with Rick Perry joking with Rick Santorum and Mitt Romney looking like a college lecturer): “Forceful attack against Romney in GOP debate.”

The Wall Street Journal’s front-page headline: “GOP race intensifies: Rivals sharpen attacks on Romney; Huntsman bows out.”

The New York Post: “Romney under siege.” Subhed: “Santorum snipes at Mitt over felon votes.” The paper notes that on his answer on tax returns, “Romney responded in legal-ese.”

The State newspaper: “Frontrunner Romney fends off rivals’ attacks.” The paper notes that he “kept his cool.” And: “Former House Speaker Newt Gingrich got in several good shots that could sway some S.C. voters. However, pundits said former U.S. Sen. Sen. Rick Santorum of Pennsylvania did not have the breakout moment he needed to pull more S.C. voters to his side.”

The Charleston Post and Courier front page: “Rivals gang up on Romney.”

The Greenville News’ front page: “Romney under heavy fire.”

The Rock Hill Herald: “Romney record focus of debate.”

CHRISTIE: He tells Oprah, per the New York Daily News: "I'll be much more ready for it four years from now than I am now” to run for president.

GINGRICH: Here’s the top story in the New York Daily News from last night’s debate: “Newt Gingrich took a swipe at New York City public workers during Monday's debate as he tried to resuscitate one of his ideas - one that flopped earlier in the campaign. The former House Speaker charged that city unions are to blame for janitors making way too much money - and he did so to defend himself from a question after he recycled a so-called plan to put school children to work. In effect, Gingrich argued the best thing public schools could do for students - particularly black students - was to give them a broom.”

“A new Fox News poll shows 29% of Republican voters think Newt Gingrich has run the most negative campaign, leading his rivals,” Political Wire notes. “In contrast, 27% say Mitt Romney has waged the most positive campaign among the GOP candidates.”

HUNTSMAN: The Salt Lake Tribune’s Burr writes: “The former Utah governor has many options as he walks away from the Republican presidential race: Run for the Senate? Step back into business? Aim for a Cabinet or other government post? … Huntsman, who recently purchased a condominium in downtown Salt Lake City and a home in Washington, D.C., slammed the door himself Monday to a third-party or independent drive for the presidency by endorsing Republican front-runner Mitt Romney.”

And there’s always 2016: “When Huntsman initially entered the presidential race, many observers suggested he could be angling for raising his name identification with voters for a 2016 White House bid. Moving out of the way of Romney’s steamrolling candidacy could pay off down the road if Obama is re-elected and the GOP nomination is open again in four years.”

PAUL: “Rep. Ron Paul can count on support from some members of the world's oldest profession as he campaigns for the 2012 Republican presidential nomination,” the New York Daily News writes. “Prostitutes at the Moonlite Bunny Ranch, a legal brothel outside Carson City, Nevada, have launched a ‘Pimpin for Paul’ campaign for the Texas libertarian, who backs their right to earn a living as working girls.”

“Texas Rep. Ron Paul, who’s made his crusade to slash federal spending the cornerstone of his GOP presidential run, has been habitually flying first class at taxpayer expense,” the New York Post writes. “Paul has jetted first class on at least 31 round-trip flights and 12 one-way flights since May 2009 to travel between Washington and his Texas district, according to an Associated Press review of congressional office expenses.”

“Sen. Jim DeMint, a Greenville Republican, may not be endorsing a candidate in this year’s S.C. primary. But he is helping out some of the candidates. A new radio ad for Texas Rep. Ron Paul features DeMint,” The State newspaper reports. In it, DeMint is heard saying, “Ron Paul is right” about spending, and “more and more we can see what he’s saying is true.”

PERRY: One of Rick Perry’s more effective lines of the night came after he called on Romney to release his taxes: “As Republicans, we cannot fire our nominee in September. We need to know now.”

But the Texas Tribune writes, “[F]rom his fifth-place perch on stage, Gov. Rick Perry had little influence, even when he launched his own attacks, like when he challenged front-runner Mitt Romney to release his tax returns. … Romney chose not to respond, which kept Perry from having any additional chances to jump in. Instead he had to wait for the next question directed to him. It was a long wait. In fact, Perry would sometimes go 20 minutes without any attention from the moderators — or his opponents. When he did get more questions, Perry mostly regurgitated lines from his stump speeches: 20-percent flat tax, a part-time Congress, a secure U.S./Mexico border.

“His biggest splash of the night came when he defended four Marines seen urinating on Afghan corpses in a video that surfaced last week. Perry criticized members of the Obama administration for calling the Marines' actions ‘despicable.’ … But even after cheers from the crowd, the debate quickly moved on to the other candidates, leaving Perry to watch and wait for his next question.”

SANTORUM: The Daily Beast (picked up in the Daily News) interviews an obstetrician who performed abortions, who dated Santorum’s wife in her 20s. He’s 40 years older than her, and, in fact, delivered her. “[I]n those days there was no sign of the devout Christian anti-abortion crusader that she became later in life, alongside her politician husband, Allen said. ‘Karen had no problems with what I did for a living,’ Allen said. ‘We never really discussed it.’”

Santorum goes up with an ad that hits Romney on bailouts, health care, and having said he was more liberal than Ted Kennedy on social issues. “Why would we ever vote for someone who’s just like Obama when we can unite around Rick Santorum and beat Obama?”

ROMNEY: “Under pressure, Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney says he might be willing to release his tax returns,” AP writes. “But not until April, if then, and the multimillionaire former businessman is not getting much gratitude from his rivals for his grudging change of heart.”

“Romney Monday afternoon released a new web ad that features Mike Huckabee, who was Romney’s bitter rival during the 2008 campaign, saying, ‘Mitt Romney’s come under a lot of fire. It’s surprising to see these attacks coming from fellow Republicans,’” the Boston Globe writes. “Huckabee made it clear that he was not endorsing Romney and did not authorize the use of the audio from his show.”