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Mitt Romney's Personal Fortune Raising Questions Ahead Of South Carolina Primary 2012

KASIE HUNT   01/19/12 08:50 PM ET  AP

CHARLESTON, S.C. — Facing newly barbed questions about his wealth, Mitt Romney on Thursday refused to bow to pressure to immediately release his tax returns in the rocky home stretch of South Carolina's Republican primary. Though still the front-runner for the nomination, Romney also lost his claim to an Iowa victory just as Newt Gingrich emerged as a stronger threat.

"If I'm the nominee, I'll put these out at one time," Romney said of his tax returns in a Republican presidential debate Thursday night.

Gingrich pressed Romney to release his tax returns ahead of the South Carolina primary Saturday. "If there's anything that's in there that's going to help us lose the election, we should know before the election," he said. Gingrich released his own tax returns Thursday night, showing he made over $3.1 million in 2010 and paid $994,708 in taxes.

Romney barely mentioned the tax returns in campaign events here as he has been dogged by questions about his personal wealth, a few generated by sometimes-awkward comments he's made over the past 10 days.

In the debate Thursday, Romney said arguments between two of his rivals were "in my view a perfect example of why we need to send to Washington someone who had not lived in Washington, but someone who has lived in the real streets of America." Romney has three homes, in California, Massachusetts and New Hampshire.

Romney grew up the son of Michigan governor and car company president George Romney, who released 12 years' worth of tax returns during his 1968 campaign for president. When asked during the debate if he planned to follow his father's example or if he would release fewer years, Romney said: "Maybe."

The former Massachusetts governor has reluctantly agreed to release the tax returns but has spurned calls from his rivals and even allies – including key supporter New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie – to do so immediately. Romney also has not yet explained why he keeps part of his fortune in the Cayman Islands. His campaign says he does not receive a tax break on the money there.

The silence from Romney's campaign on details of his holdings was just one element of a political day that underscored the unpredictability of Saturday's South Carolina primary.

In a blow to Romney, Texas Gov. Rick Perry dropped out of the race and endorsed Gingrich, a move that could start to consolidate conservative support behind the former House speaker.

That shrunk the field, leaving Romney and Gingrich on stage Thursday night with just Texas Rep. Ron Paul and former Pennsylvania Sen. Rick Santorum. Santorum claimed an Iowa win during the day – the state party said he did have the biggest share of the votes it could count – and he continued to fight Gingrich for the mantle of Romney's chief conservative foe.

Romney barely mentioned Perry at all, leaving him out of a speech to supporters and only mentioning him in passing when pressed by reporters afterward.

"Terrific guy, terrific conservative," Romney said. "We're going to miss him on stage tonight."

But Romney also was grappling with the announcement from the Iowa GOP that Santorum actually led him by 34 votes in the final tally of the state's caucuses, though no winner has been declared. At the very least, it was a symbolic setback for a Romney campaign reeling from a series of bumps over the past few days.

In a written statement, Romney called the Iowa results a "virtual tie" and praised Santorum's "strong performance" in the state.

It was a far different type of day when Romney touched down in South Carolina just over a week ago, coming off what appeared to be twin victories in Iowa and New Hampshire.

Since then, Romney has been confronted by attacks from his opponents on everything from his tax returns to his changed positions on social issues like abortion. And he's made unforced errors talking about his own personal wealth and defending the private equity firm he founded, Bain Capital.

On Tuesday, Romney disclosed that he pays an effective tax rate of about 15 percent, lower than what he would pay if he earned a regular paycheck rather than making most of his income in dividends, capital gains and other returns on investments. He also called "not very much" the amount he earned in speechmaking fees: $373,327.62 for 12 months in 2010 and early 2011.

His campaign has repeatedly refused to answer more questions about his fortune, and the candidate himself has tried to change the subject by attacking Gingrich as he inches up in polls.

Regardless of the outcome of the primary Saturday, Romney's past 10 days have played into the hands of Democrats who are looking to paint him as an out-of-touch multimillionaire during the general election.

In the meantime, Democrats planned a series of news conferences to argue that the work Romney did at Bain Capital wasn't the same as bolstering American manufacturing.

President Barack Obama's campaign advisers contend voters are unlikely to back a wealthy Republican with financial-industry ties at a time of lingering economic distress.

The questions about Romney's wealth began last week in New Hampshire when he told an audience he knew what it was like to worry about being "pink-slipped" and losing a job. A day later, he said, "I like being able to fire people who provide services to me" – a comment about health insurance companies that his rivals used to paint Romney as out of touch with ordinary Americans.

In a moment that was clearly unscripted, Romney disclosed for the first time Tuesday that, despite his wealth of hundreds of millions of dollars, he has been paying taxes in the neighborhood of 15 percent, far below the top maximum income tax rate of 35 percent, because his income "comes overwhelmingly from investments made in the past."

He's also refused to answer questions about why he invests in funds that are domiciled in the Cayman Islands, a popular destination for international investments. An Associated Press examination of Romney's 2012 presidential financial disclosure found at least six holdings in offshore-based funds totaling between $7 million and $32 million. There is no indication Romney used the accounts to dodge his U.S. tax obligations.

Depending how the funds are structured, though, some experts said, they can also be used to provide a legal way for American investors to indefinitely defer the payment of taxes until the money returns to the U.S.

During 2010 and the first nine months of 2011, the Romney family had at least $9.6 million in income, according to a financial disclosure form submitted in August.

The maximum marginal U.S. income tax rate of 35 percent applies – in theory more than practice – to households with taxable income of over about $388,500.

___

Stephen Braun in Washington contributed to this report.

Inside Mitt Romney's campaign:
  • Moving Forward

    Mitt Romney lost to Rick Santorum in Louisiana, but he maintains a lead in the delegate race. His campaign also continues to dominate the GOP field in fundraising. Romney's next stop is Wisconsin, where he's touting his economic record.

  • Widening Lead

    Mitt Romney continued to grow his lead in delegates with the Illinois primary, which he won commandingly, with a double-digit margin over Rick Santorum. The victory helped Romney further along his path to the nomination. But his team quickly followed it with a gaffe. The next day, senior adviser Eric Fehrnstrom compared Romney's campaign to an Etch A Sketch, saying the general election would represent a "reset button."

  • On The Upswing

    After a rocky road in the South, Mitt Romney came back with a pair of impressive primary victories. The former Massachusetts governor overwhelmingly won Puerto Rico primary with more than 80 percent of the vote. Romney is a firm supporter of statehood, while Rick Santorum, his chief GOP rival, controversially suggested English should be the main language in the U.S. territory. Romney's big Caribbean win came despite the fact that he shortened his Puerto Rico visit to focus on campaigning in Illinois, a critical primary state. Romney emerged victorious in Illinois, picking up at least 41 delegates. Leading in the delegate count, Romney looks to be on track to clinch his party's nomination.

  • The Race Goes On

    Mitt Romney's campaign admitted that primaries in the Deep South represented "a bit of an away game," and he lost to Rick Santorum in both Alabama and Mississippi. Romney still maintains a wide lead in delegates, but the prolonged fight has increasingly stressed the campaign's finances, forcing Romney to break from states with upcoming primaries to raise money in New York.

  • Back In The Game

    After a string of losses, Mitt Romney ended February with double wins in Michigan and Arizona. HuffPost's Jon Ward reports:

    Mitt Romney's narrow win over Rick Santorum in Michigan on Tuesday, combined with his decisive win in Arizona, allowed his campaign a sigh of relief. He knew he had narrowly missed hitting an iceberg. Romney, the former Massachusetts governor, had 41 percent to Santorum's 38 percent, with 99 percent of the vote counted, according to the Associated Press. Romney won Arizona with 47 percent to Santorum's 27 percent, with 89 percent of the vote counted. "We didn't win by a lot but we won by enough and that's all that counts," said Romney, who was measured in his exuberance, reflecting in his body language the knowledge that a long fight still lies ahead.
    Heading into Super Tuesday, the Romney campaign is focused on Ohio, where polling shows him neck-and-neck with Rick Santorum.

  • Still Confident

    Recent polling shows Mitt Romney tied with Rick Santorum - or lagging behind - in Michigan, but his campaign is staying positive. "We're going to win Michigan," Romney adviser Stuart Stevens said after the GOP debate in Arizona. Romney has garnered endorsements from several of his home state's major newspapers, including The Detroit News, The Oakland Press and the Detroit Free Press. But the Free Press endorsement was less than glowing:

    For the past 12 months, Romney has been refashioning himself as something other than what his record suggests. He has made gestures toward economic and social radicalism, and eschewed the common sense of cooperative governing that made him a success in Massachusetts. Romney was also dead wrong when he opposed government bailouts for the auto industry (Michigan's most vital economic engine) in late 2008. And he has since adopted a recalcitrant and, at times, revisionist defense of his position in the face of overwhelming evidence that the bailouts he opposed were necessary. [...] That's a mistake he will need to correct if he becomes the GOP nominee and hopes to even compete with President Barack Obama in the fall. But Romney, unlike the zealous Rick Santorum, the impulsive Newt Gingrich and the backward-thinking Ron Paul, is preferable to the rest of the field.
    A Detroit News editor later complained that Romney had removed critical sections from the paper's endorsement. The campaign claimed that it did so to avoid copyright infringement, but at least one attorney had said that excuse doesn't pass muster.

  • Tied For First

    Once considered the presumptive front-runner, Romney is now struggling to break away from rival Rick Santorum. Mark Blumenthal reports that Romney might find smoother sailing ahead:

    Although the national polls currently show a close race, Romney's campaign is well organized and flush with cash and thus able to compete for delegates in every state. For now, Santorum's campaign must focus more narrowly on the upcoming primaries. Moreover, the majority of Republicans continue to believe that Romney will win. On the CNN/ORC International poll, for example, more than two thirds of Republicans (68 percent) now say they expect Romney to win the Republican nomination, up from 41 percent in December. And if Romney does win? Two thirds of Republicans on the CNN poll say they would be either "enthusiastic" (21 percent) or "pleased" (44 percent), while only 11 percent say they would be "upset" -- 25 percent say they would be "displeased but not upset." Taken together, these results tell us that while the polling volatility may continue, most Republicans remain open to a Romney nomination.

  • 'Severely Conservative'

    After a rough week, Mitt Romney headed to Washington to prove his conservative bona fides at CPAC, stressing his upbringing and his history as a governor and business leader:

    Mitt Romney gave one of the most important speeches during his second turn as a presidential candidate on Friday at CPAC, and instead of just defending his credentials to the audience of grassroots activists, he suggested that he is the most authentic conservative in the Republican primary. The presidential hopeful said he "fought against long odds in a deep blue state" while serving as governor of Massachusetts and that he was "severely conservative" during his tenure. Romney acknowledged to the crowd that he did not come to conservatism as a young activist, telling them that if he had heard the names of foundational authors Friedrich Hayek or Edmund Burke when he was a young man, "you could have told me they were infielders for the Detroit Tigers." "My path to conservatism came from my family, from my faith and from my life's work," Romney said. "Those aren't values that I just talk about. They're values I live every day." "I know conservatism because I have lived conservatism," Romney said.
    A day later, Romney's campaign got another boost when he won the Maine caucus, defeating Ron Paul by 3 points.

  • Bad Day

    Mitt Romney's campaign hit a setback with his triple losses to Rick Santorum in Colorado, Minnesota and Missouri. Although Romney didn't seem overly worried during his concession speech, the results underscore some of his weaknesses as a candidate.

  • Caucus Season Battles

    Mitt Romney aimed to preserve his frontrunner status as he entered caucus season in early February. He started the month strongly, with a decisive victory in the Nevada caucus. With Rick Santorum poised to gain a bit of momentum in Colorado and Minnesota, Romney ramped up rhetoric geared at social conservatives. He slammed Obama for his policies on birth control and emergency contraception, stating that "This kind of assault on religion will end if I'm president of the United States." Romney won both Minnesota and Colorado during his 2008 bid for the nomination.

  • Westward Bound

    After a big win in the Florida primary, Mitt Romney headed west to keep the momentum rolling. Polls show the former governor with a commanding lead in Nevada, while rival Newt Gingrich continues to slip. The morning after his victory in Florida, the former governor hit a bit of a snag when he continued a streak of poorly phrased remarks that call attention to his time at Bain Capital. During an interview with CNN, Romney said that he's "not concerned about the very poor," a line that other candidates quickly jumped on.

  • Regaining Momentum

    Mitt Romney enters the Florida Primary with a very solid lead in the polls. Poll averages show the former Massachusetts governor around 41 percent, over 12 points ahead of rival Newt Gingrich. With a win in Florida's winner-take-all contest looking increasingly inevitable, his campaign has started to look ahead to future nominating contests. AP reported on Romney's future beyond the Sunshine State:

    Romney's advisers -- and unaffiliated Republicans -- see a widening path to victory beyond Florida. "A lot of the contests are states he won four years ago. Some of them are big primary states like Michigan. Arizona, we didn't get to in 2008, but we think that's good, fertile territory for us," said Romney senior adviser Eric Fehrnstrom. "Other states -- Colorado, Minnesota, Maine -- these are all contests we won in the past, where Mitt still retains a strong base of support."

  • Battling Newt

    Mitt Romney's campaign suffered a blow in South Carolina, when GOP hopeful Newt Gingrich won the state's primary with 40 percent of the vote. Romney came in second with 28 percent. Romney struggled to garner excitement from the conservative voting block in the Palmetto state. Heading into Florida, Gingrich continued to surge in the polls, challenging Romney's frontrunner status. In Florida, the two candidates hammered each other with negative attack ads. In the final debate before Florida's 2012 primary, Romney came out swinging against Gingrich, but the former House speaker held back his usual fiery, aggressive attacks, propelling Romney to a victory in the critical debate.

  • Concedes Iowa

    More than two weeks after the Iowa caucus, a final certified tally showed Rick Santorum actually won the contest, beating Mitt Romney by 24 votes, 29,839 to 29,805. The Des Moines Register reported that votes from eight precincts will never be counted, however, and therefore the ultimate tally remains inconclusive. HuffPost's Elise Foley reports:

    Officials found inaccurate counts in 131 precincts, including one that had an error by 50 votes, the Des Moines Register reported on Thursday. Chad Olsen, the party's executive director, told the Register that the results showed "a split decision." The final tallies, exempting the eight precincts that will not be tallied, were 29,839 for Santorum and 29,805 for Romney, according to the Register. The Santorum campaign said the change in results could change the narrative of Romney as a frontrunner.
    Romney called Santorum to congratulate him on the win, CNN reported.

  • Pressure To Release Tax Return

    Mitt Romney has declined to release his tax returns, despite pressure from his Republican presidential rivals and the White House to do so. At a GOP debate in South Carolina, a stuttering Romney said he will "probably" release his tax records in April if he becomes the party's nominee. He acknowledged it is the tradition for candidates to reveal their tax information, but said doing so at this point in the election would only give Democrats reason to go after him. Romney later revealed that his effective tax rate is 15 percent, below the rate paid by many middle-class families. Romney was booed for again waffling on the issue at the final GOP debate in South Carolina, days before the state's primary. HuffPost's Amanda Terkel reports:

    "Why not, should the people of South Carolina, before this election, see last year's return?" asked [moderator John] King to applause from the audience. "Because I want to make sure that I beat President Obama," replied Romney. "Every time we release things drip by drip, the Democrats go out with another array of attacks. As has been done in the past, I'll put these out at one time so we have one discussion of all of this. I obviously pay all full taxes. I'm honest in my dealings with people. People understand that. My taxes are carefully managed. I pay a lot of taxes. I've been very successful. When I have our taxes ready for this year, I'll release them."
    Romney finally released his tax records for 2010, on Jan. 24. The records show he paid an effective rate of 13.9 percent in 2010, considerably lower than the average middle class American. The records also show Romney had a Swiss bank account. Two days later Romney revised his disclosures for his overseas account. From NBC:
    Mitt Romney could face new questions about his overseas investments after a campaign official acknowledged to NBC News that his campaign is revising his federal ethics forms to report more than a half dozen offshore holdings, including income from a multi-million dollar Swiss bank account that was not disclosed last year.

  • Endorsements

    Romney continues to pick up high-profile endorsements such as. New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.), former Senate Majority Leader Bob Dole have backed Romney. and an unofficial endorsement from former President George H.W. Bush. In a surprise to many, Tea Party favorites Nikki Haley and Christine O'Donnell have also backed Romney. On Jan. 15 Republican presidential hopeful Jon Huntsman dropped out of the race and endorsed his former rival. Just as notable as Romney's growing roster of endorsements are the names absent from the list. Many national party leaders have not yet endorsed the frontrunner, or any of the Republican presidential candidates in the field.

  • Early Success

    Despite the Republican Party's hesitance to unite around Mitt Romney, his campaign has surged as voters continue to believe he is the candidate with the best shot of beating President Obama. Romney won the New Hampshire primary and was originally declared the winner of the Iowa caucus. Even though Romney barely campaigned in Iowa, hoping to avoid an embarrassing repeat of his campaign-crushing loss in 2008, he seemed poised to emerge victorious over Rick Santorum in Hawkeye state, by just eight votes. Recounts later revised those results to put him in a close second. As expected, the former Massachusetts governor went on to easily win the first in the nation primary in neighboring New Hampshire.

  • Battle For The Anti-Romney

    Throughout the presidential primary season, rival Republican candidates have surged past Romney only to fall back down to Earth. One after another, Minnesota Rep. Michele Bachmann, Texas Governor Rick Perry, former pizza CEO Herman Cain and former House Speaker Newt Gingrich each experienced a volatile bump and fall in their campaigns, while Romney stayed steadily at the top of the field. Due in part to this sense of inevitability and electability, Romney is poised for a strong finish in the Hawkeye State despite his rocky history with Iowa voters.

  • Tea Party Opposition

    While Romney has achieved solid polling numbers both in key primary states and on the national level, one group of Tea Party organizers has publicly announced that their primary mission will be to deny him the GOP candidacy. HuffPost's Jon Ward reports:

    Interviews with top officials at FreedomWorks, a Washington-based organizing hub for Tea Party activists around the country, revealed that much of their thinking about the 2012 election revolves around derailing the former Massachusetts governor. "Romney has a record and we don't really like it that much," said Adam Brandon, the group's communications director.
    When Romney sought to extend an olive branch to the Tea Party with his official debut at a rally in New Hampshire, FreedomWorks followed through with their promise, though the turnout at the protest was minimal.

  • Questionable Campaign Contributions

    While Mitt Romney has proven himself to be a formidable fundraiser over the course of his campaign, some of the donations have sparked intense scrutiny. HuffPost's Paul Blumenthal reports that Romney is blowing his competition out of the water when it comes to campaign cash from lobbyists:

    According to disclosure reports filed at the end of July, 61 registered lobbyists and five lobbyist-linked political action committees contributed $137,650 to Romney's campaign between Jan. 1 and June 30, 2011. The former Massachusetts governor raised more money from lobbyists during this period than all of his competitors combined.
    But the influx of lobbyist dollars into Romney's campaign isn't the only cash flow raising eyebrows. Over the summer, Romney drew fire after it was reported that an LLC popped up, donated $1 million to a pro-Romney super PAC, then vanished 3 months later. Ed Conard, former managing director of Bain Capital, the group that Romney co-founded and once headed, later came out as the name behind that group. Romney dismissed the questionable contribution days later at a townhall meeting, telling a questioner that there was "no harm, no foul."

  • Mitt: Mormon -- And 'Weird'?

    Mitt Romney, son of former Michigan Governor and GOP presidential candidate George W. Romney, comes from a large family of Mormons whose bloodline runs into Mexico. From The Washington Post report on Romney's relatives south of the border:

    Three dozen of Mitt Romney's relatives live here in a narrow river valley at the foot of the western Sierra Madre mountains, surrounded by peach groves, apple orchards and some of the baddest, most fearsome drug gangsters and kidnappers in all of northern Mexico. Like Mitt, the Mexican Romneys are descendants of Miles Park Romney, who came to the Chihuahua desert in 1885 seeking refuge from U.S. anti-polygamy laws. He had four wives and 30 children, and on the rocky banks of the Piedras Verdes River, he and his fellow Mormon pioneers carved out a prosperous settlement beyond the reach of U.S. federal marshals. He was Mitt's great-grandfather.
    Whether or not questions of Romney's faith will be visibly at play in the 2012 cycle remains to be seen. Team Obama's attack plan against Romney will include reminders of the former governor's quirkiness, though no direct links to his religion, according to an earlier Politico piece:
    The onslaught would have two aspects. The first is personal: Obama's reelection campaign will portray the public Romney as inauthentic, unprincipled and, in a word used repeatedly by Obama's advisers in about a dozen interviews, "weird."
    Some have claimed that "weird" is simply a code word for "Mormon," a faith that some voters have appeared apprehensive about supporting in a White House bid. Romney himself has walked a line between addressing his religion upfront and downplaying its overall significance. But others say Romney's demeanor on the campaign trail is enough on its own to justify the Obama campaign's "weird" tactic: HuffPost's Jon Ward reported on Romney's campaign trail demeanor:
    There were awkward moments as well. He walked up to two women in their early 40s sitting at a booth together in Mary Ann's and asked, "Do you guys know each other?" A few minutes later, posing with a few waitresses, Romney nearly jumped away from them with a howl, pretending as if one of them had grabbed his backside. He laughed -- there is supposedly a backstory about someone actually pinching him a few years ago -- but it was nonetheless a jarring sight. Afterward the waitresses said they had not grabbed him.
    (More of Romney's awkward exchanges here.) Attempting to make a $10,000 bet at a GOP presidential debate didn't help Romney's image of being a multi-millionaire that's out of touch with the average American. Romney offered to bet Rick Perry $10K to settle the argument over whether his health care plan included an individual mandate that President Obama used as a model for his nationwide plan.

  • Standing By RomneyCare

    Even before Romney's official entry into the 2012 race, Republican pundits around the country were urging the former Massachusetts governor to simply apologize for what they had determined to be his primary Achilles' heel: the state health care overhaul he helped push through in 2006. Instead, however, the one-time Blue state governor has taken a different tack. In a speech to the Michigan Cardiovascular Center in May, Romney addressed the health care reform plan, which the Obama camp has repeatedly cited as an inspiration for the national health care reform passed last year. He admitted that it was viewed as a liability, but defended it, portraying it as a fundamentally different program than the national law. HuffPost's Jon Ward reported at the time:

    Romney spent half of his speech defending the Massachusetts plan -- which required the six percent of the state's citizens who were not insured to obtain health insurance or pay a "bond" of roughly $125 a month -- before turning to a critique of President Obama's health care overhaul passed last year by Congress. He admitted that some of the aspects of the state plan, which has already led to government price controls to try to rein in costs, have not worked like he had hoped, but concluded: "Overall am I proud of the fact that we did our best for our people and got people insured? Absolutely."
    Romney has taken a few lumps from his rivals for his role in the reform package, and he can almost certainly expect to weather more before the primary is over.

  • Pet Causes

    HuffPost's Andrea Stone reports on Romney's charitable efforts:

    The richest remaining candidate in the Republican presidential field has a net worth somewhere north of $200 million. With a fortune amassed as a venture capitalist at his firm, Bain Capital, he has been generous to many community, civic and political advocacy organizations. But the vast majority of his philanthropic contributions have gone to the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (LDS) in the form of the tithes required of all Mormons in good standing. The former Massachusetts lay bishop has spoken candidly about his religious faith, but his prodigious contributions to the LDS Church will do little to mollify evangelical primary voters whom polls show have a deep prejudice against electing a Mormon president.
    For more on the giving habits of the other GOP presidential candidates, click here.

  • Returning To The Trail

    Mitt Romney's strong second-place performance in the 2008 primary allowed him to effectively secure a default frontrunner status in the 2012 GOP race, even before his potential rivals were officially known. While his return to the campaign trail as a likely favorite has given him a chance to build his fundraising ties after spending much of his own money in the 2008 contest, the general lack of enthusiasm surrounding his candidacy has played a part in giving rise to fresh faces in the primary, such as Rep. Michele Bachmann (R-Minn.) and Texas Gov. Rick Perry. Questions have also risen about the Romney campaign's earlier decision to keep him out of the trenches during prime stumping time over the summer. In early August Politico reported on the state of Romney's campaign, likening it to a "Mittness Protection Program:"

    This is hardly your traditional Rose Garden campaign, in which a strong incumbent or frontrunner molds politics to follow his non-political day job. Romney doesn't currently hold office or any other job. But more importantly, he's a Republican frontrunner of unprecedented weakness, and one whom the American people barely know. And while his advisers describe the decision as a strategic choice to pick only the big fights, it has obvious negative consequences: Romney's identity remains hazy, voters remain unmet, and his rare appearances raise the stakes for gaffe free - or at least vaguely normal - performances.

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Filed by Luke Johnson  |