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"Christmas In June"

"Christmas In June"New questions about Republican gubernatorial candidate Mitt Romney's tax returns and residency status have given Democrats an unexpected boost, say Tufts experts.

Medford/Somerville, Mass. [06.10.02] Last week, Mitt Romney was on top of the world. As a crowded field of Democrats battled each other during the party's convention, political analysts said the Republican gubernatorial candidate was in a strong position to win a term in the State House. But new questions about Romney's residency status and tax returns have given Democrats a new boost, say Tufts experts.

"He's been pretty badly damaged," Tufts political science professor Jeffrey Berry told The Boston Globe. "His credibility has been punctured and he appears to be trying to find excuses for not telling the truth upfront. It's Christmas in June for the Democrats this week."

Shortly after Democrats concluded their convention last weekend, Romney faced a series of unexpected questions about whether he met the state's residency requirements for gubernatorial candidates.

Questions about his tax returns -- ranging from whether he filed as a Utah, rather than Massachusetts, resident to whether he knew about an erroneous $54,000 tax break on one of his homes -- presented Romney with a curveball, experts said.

"His demeanor has had a bit of the deer-caught-in-the-headlights glaze," Berry told the Globe. "He is a little less sure of himself."

The controversy has also kept the Republican candidate from reinforcing his campaign platform.

"The image he's trying to project is that he is not a politician, [but is instead] honest, above the pettiness of politics, an excellent manager, in command of details, cleaning up a big mess in Salt Lake City," Tufts' political science professor James Glaser told the Globe. "It's not good when a series of events highlights things that you have done or said that go against that image."

Since Romney entered the bid for the State House earlier this year, he has proven to be a tough target for Democrats. Riding on support from his work on the 2002 Winter Olympics in Utah, Romney appeared to have little political baggage weighing him down.

But that may have changed, Berry said.

"His strongest suit in the election, what he really seemed to have over the Democrats was the, 'I am a can-do businessman, give me the problem and I can solve it,'" the Tufts expert told the newspaper. "But here he has this small tax problem, and he couldn't solve it. How is he going to solve the state budget and deal with [House Speaker Thomas M.] Finneran if he can't deal with a Utah tax return?"

Democrats may also use the controversy to drive a wedge between Romney and Massachusetts voters.

"All of this raises questions about his wealth and status," Glaser told the Globe. "When he talks about being an effective manager, and an honest, successful businessman, that's great. But the Democrats played the class card the last time around, and the whole story being about his having two homes, worth $3 million or $4 million, raises questions that aren't good for him."

While Democrats can score some points against Romney, their tactics could backfire. With five months left in the election, Berry said Democrats risk looking petty if they belabor the issue too much.

"They don't want him taken off the ballot. That would cheapen the victory of a Democrat," Berry said. "If I was a Democrat, I'd let him bleed on his own."

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