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Bain Capital, tax returns continue to dog Romney. Can Obama make it stick?

The Sunday TV talk shows were filled with campaign surrogates for Mitt Romney and Barack Obama arguing about Romney’s income taxes and his years running Bain Capital. It’s meat for political junkies, but do average voters care?

Mitt Romney has a lot going for him.

He’s been able to out-raise (and therefore out-spend) the Obama re-election campaign. When the summer Olympic games start in London next week, you can be sure he’ll remind voters that he won a gold medal for saving the scandal-tainted 2002 winter Olympics in Salt Lake City. And the economy — that is, its refusal so far to show much sign of sustained recovery — may be bad for the country, but it’s good for a presidential challenger.

But as Sunday’s TV blabfests showed, Mr. Romney continues to be dogged by his business record and his personal wealth.

First, his reluctance to do more than the minimum in releasing his income tax returns.

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On ABC’s “This Week,” conservative columnist George Will says Romney is losing the issue “in a big way.”

“I do not know why, given that Mitt Romney knew the day that [John] McCain lost in 2008 that he was going to run for president again that he didn’t get all of this out and tidy up some of his offshore accounts and all the rest,” Mr. Will said. “The cost of not releasing the returns are clear, therefore he must have calculated that there are higher costs in releasing them.”

Speaking on the same show, Republican strategist Matthew Dowd said, “Obviously something there, because if there was nothing there, he would say, ‘Have at it.’”

“Many of these politicians think, ‘I can do this. I can get away with this,’” Mr. Dowd added. “If he had 20 years of ‘great, clean, everything’s fine,’ it’d all be out there, but it’s arrogance.”

More Republicans piled on.

“He should release the tax returns tomorrow. It’s crazy,” William Kristol, editor of the Weekly Standard, said on “Fox News Sunday.” “You gotta release six, eight, 10 years of back tax returns. Take the hit for a day or two.”

At the National Governors Association meeting in Williamsburg, Va., over the weekend, Gov. Robert Bentley of Alabama called on Romney to release all the documents requested of him.

“If you have things to hide, then maybe you’re doing things wrong,” Gov. Bentley told the Associated Press. “I think you ought to be willing to release everything to the American people.”

Meanwhile, Romney’s time at Bain Capital continued to be a point of heated contention Sunday as well, although here it was strictly partisan.

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Among others, Obama spokesperson Stephanie Cutter (on CBS) and adviser David Axelrod (on CNN) weighed in.

“We do know that he said he had no involvement with any of the entities that Bain was involved in, and yet he came back for board meetings,” Mr. Axelrod said. “The larger point is he was in charge when they bought these firms whose principal mission was to facilitate outsourcing and offshoring.”

Not so, retorted Romney surrogates, who contend that Romney had no hand in managing Bain’s business after 1999, even though he was listed as a senior official until 2002.

“There may have been a thought at the time that [Romney’s Bain work] could be part-time. It was not part-time,” Romney campaign advisor Ed Gillespie told Candy Crowley on CNN’s “State of the Union.” “The Olympics was in a shambles. He took a leave of absence and in fact, Candy, ended up not going back at all and retired retroactively to February 1999 as a result.”

Romney backers also repeated their charge that the Chicago-based Obama campaign has gone way beyond the bounds of normal rough-and-tumble politics here.

“It’s sad to see,” Mr. Gillespie said. “We now know that this president will say or do anything to keep the highest office in the land, even if it means demeaning the highest office in the land.”

Romney himself has called on Obama to apologize for his campaign aides’ rhetorical shrapnel, which Romney calls “beneath the dignity of the presidency.”

But in a broadcast interview in Virginia Saturday, Obama said, “We will not apologize.”

“Mr. Romney claims he’s Mr. fix-it for the economy because of his business experience,” Obama said, “so I think voters entirely legitimately want to know what is exactly his business experience.”

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Huffington Post reported Sunday that a corporate document filed with the state of Massachusetts in December 2002 — a month after Romney was elected governor — lists him as one of two managing members of Bain Capital Investors, LLC “authorized to execute, acknowledge, deliver and record any recordable instrument purporting to affect an interest in real property, whether to be recorded with a Registry of Deeds or with a District Office of the Land Court.”

It remains to be seen whether voters care more about that revelation or they accept Romney campaign advisor Ed Gillespie’s explanation that Romney “retired retroactively to February 1999.”

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