Feb. 22 (Bloomberg) -- Mitt Romney offered an expanded tax- cut plan today, turning the focus of the Republican presidential campaign back to economic issues before a potentially crucial televised debate tonight.
“My plan will create jobs,” Romney told a campaign rally in Chandler, Arizona, just hours before the candidates face off for the first time in a month in the debate in Mesa.
Romney’s plan would set a permanent top tax rate of 28 percent for individuals from 35 percent now, cut corporate taxes to 25 percent from 35 percent, eliminate the estate tax and scrap the alternative minimum tax.
It also would limit deductions, exemptions and credits that are currently available to higher-income Americans, according to a campaign fact sheet.
To pay for the cuts and reduce the federal budget deficit, Romney said he’d trim $500 billion in spending by 2016.
Romney is working to regain momentum in the race as he strives to take back his front-runner status from Rick Santorum before the Feb. 28 Michigan and Arizona primaries.
As Santorum has surged, social issues have become a central topic in the race. By releasing his proposal today, Romney is seeking to return the conversation to economic issues and his business background.
Statewide polls show a close race in Michigan and that Santorum, a former senator from Pennsylvania, is narrowing Romney’s edge in Arizona. A Romney loss in Michigan, his boyhood home, would deal a severe blow to his campaign.
Romney’s announcement also comes as President Barack Obama called for cutting the U.S. corporate tax rate to 28 percent from 35 percent now. Obama’s plan would remove tax breaks for companies to help offset lost revenue, an administration official said.
Reducing the top corporate tax rate to 25 percent was a central point of an economic proposal Romney offered in September. The former Massachusetts governor’s plan, which would eliminate taxes on interest, dividends and capital gains for individuals making $200,000 or less per year, came under criticism over a lack of details.
Romney said yesterday during a town-hall meeting in Shelby Township, Michigan, that he wants “a flatter, fairer, broader- based tax system.”
Tonight’s debate on CNN -- which will include former U.S. House Speaker Newt Gingrich and U.S. Representative Ron Paul of Texas -- will be the last direct exchange among the candidates scheduled before Super Tuesday on March 6, when 11 states hold contests that should play a major role in determining who secures the Republican nomination.
For Santorum, 53, tonight is a chance to reintroduce himself to voters who may have written off his candidacy weeks ago when he was lagging in polls and fundraising. Romney, 64, is trying to reinvigorate his bid and reiterate his campaign theme that he’s a strong and steady executive best positioned to defeat Obama in November’s election.
Gingrich, 68, is pressing for the type of strong debate performance that periodically has boosted his candidacy and that he needs now to gain some momentum heading into Super Tuesday. Paul, 76, also will be looking ahead to the March 6 contests, which include caucuses that give supporters attracted by his libertarian agenda stressing a limited federal government their best chance of accruing convention delegates.
The importance of the Michigan primary is underscored by escalating advertising by political action committees aligned with Santorum or Romney.
A new commercial being aired in Michigan by the Red White and Blue Fund, a super-PAC supporting Santorum, charges that Romney increased spending, taxes and fees as governor of Massachusetts and implemented a “blueprint” for the U.S. health-care law.
“How can Mitt Romney beat Barack Obama when, on the vital decisions, they’re not much different?” a narrator asks.
The group, which can raise and spend unlimited amounts on Santorum’s behalf, purchased an additional $600,000 in commercial time in Michigan, spokesman Stuart Roy said yesterday. That brings the super-PAC’s total expenditures on the state’s airwaves to boost Santorum to about $1.3 million, he said.
Restore our Future, the pro-Romney super-PAC, also began airing new negative ads yesterday in Michigan, according to New York-based Kantar Media’s CMAG, which tracks advertising.
Raising Debt Ceiling
The commercial attacks Santorum for voting during his time in Congress to raise the federal debt-ceiling and for securing federal funds for parochial spending projects known as earmarks. It also criticizes Santorum’s 2002 Senate vote to authorize ex- convicts to vote in federal elections.
Romney’s campaign and Restore Our Future spent $810,980 on broadcast television ads in Michigan as of Feb. 18, compared with what was then $262,260 by Santorum’s campaign and Red White and Blue Fund, CMAG data show.
Santorum, in remarks yesterday at a party luncheon in Phoenix, highlighted what he termed “a track record of cutting spending and taking on the big entitlements,” of fighting “radical Islamists” and “of standing up for the basic foundational pillars of our society: faith and family.”
He drew implicit contrasts with Romney and Gingrich, calling himself an “authentic conservative” and saying: “I’m not a manager. I’m not a visionary. I’m a guy from a steel town who grew up understanding what made this country great.”
From the Heart
At a rally last night in Phoenix, Santorum indirectly responded to a fresh focus on a 2008 speech he gave in which he said Satan was targeting America.
“I’ll defend everything I’ll say, because it comes from here,” Santorum said, pointing to his heart. He compared his sometimes strong language to when Ronald Reagan, during his presidency, branded the former Soviet Union as an “evil empire” and was criticized for doing so.
Romney yesterday touted his commitment to socially conservative principles such as opposing abortion rights.
“My vice presidential nominee will be pro-life,” he told voters in Shelby Township, Michigan, when asked about his running-mate. “If I’m fortunate enough to become the nominee, I will also choose someone who is conservative to the core.”
He also made a rare, indirect reference to his Mormon faith, telling voters that his religion made him particularly sensitive to issues of religious tolerance.
“As someone who has understood very personally the significance of religious tolerance and religious freedom and the right to one’s own conscience, I will make sure we never again attack religious liberty in the United States of America.”
Addressing hundreds of people who traversed snowy roads to hear him speak, Romney cast Santorum as a Washington insider who used congressional earmarks to allocate federal money for local projects in his district.
“I don’t think that’s consistent with the principles of conservatives,” he said. “I don’t think Rick Santorum’s track record is that of a fiscal conservative.”
In Michigan, where Romney’s father served as governor, Santorum’s support rose after he swept contests in Colorado, Minnesota and Missouri on Feb. 7 -- victories that also spurred the increase in his national backing. Polls in the last few days in Michigan have shown a neck-and-neck race between the two.
In Arizona, Romney leads Santorum by 36 percent to 32 percent, according to a CNN/Time/ORC poll. The Feb. 17-20 survey of likely voters in the Republican primary has an error margin of plus-or-minus 4.5 percentage points. Most other recent polls showed Romney with a larger lead.
Top Romney officials are casting their candidate as the underdog in the Michigan race.
“Mitt Romney is the comeback kid,” said Michigan Attorney General Bill Schuette, the candidate’s state chairman.