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Losing in primary forces tax U-turn from Romney

Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney hugs his granddaughter Chloe following his defeat to Newt Gingrich, inset, in the South Carolina primary. Getty Images

Mitt Romney caved in to demands for the release of his tax returns yesterday as he scrambled to recover from a thrashing by Newt Gingrich in the South Carolina presidential primary.

Mr Romney turned a 10 percentage point poll lead last Monday into a 12-point defeat in the first southern primary, hurt by attacks over his career as a corporate buy-out boss.

He said yesterday that he would publish his 2010 return and a 2011 estimate tomorrow, a week before the next Republican contest in Florida.

It was a humbling reversal for the former Massachusetts governor, who had said he would not make the figures public until April, when he expected to have wrapped up the nomination. "We just made a mistake in holding off as long as we did," he said in a television interview.

Mr Romney, who has a $250m (€193m) fortune and exploits a controversial loophole to pay lower income tax than most Americans, has suffered from Mr Gingrich's allegations that he "manipulated the lives of thousands" as head of Bain Capital in the 1980s.

Mr Gingrich yesterday arrived in Florida, whose primary is set for January 31, after winning 41pc of the South Carolina vote against Mr Romney's 27pc in a remarkable comeback.

He set the stage for a vicious, protracted contest between a "Reagan populist conservative" and an "establishment candidate" favoured by the "elites of Washington and New York".

"I think Floridians would like somebody who speaks for them to Washington, not somebody who speaks for the establishment to them," Mr Gingrich said in a television interview.

Mr Obama delivers his final State of the Union address tomorrow before the election, enabling him to present a stark contrast as the leader of a unified party with a clearly defined agenda 10 months before the presidential election.

Mr Romney holds an 11-point lead in Florida opinion polls.

Abandoning his policy of remaining above the party fray, he attacked Mr Gingrich in his concession speech.

"If Republican leaders want to join this president in demonising success and disparaging conservative values, then they're not going to be fit to be our nominee," he said.

Mr Gingrich's South Carolina win came after a strident debate performance last Thursday, when he received a standing ovation for dismissing claims from his ex-wife Marianne that he requested an "open marriage" in 1999 as "despicable".

Rick Santorum, who finished third in the southern primary, and Ron Paul, who finished fourth, have vowed to fight on. (© Daily Telegraph, London)

Irish Independent