TAMPA, Fla. -- Mitt Romney's campaign is firmly operating as if the former Massachusetts governor's tax returns, which dogged him throughout the South Carolina primary, are now an issue of the past.
Speaking just hours after Romney released his 2010 tax returns and estimates for 2011, spokesman Eric Ferhnstrom was already trying to move on.
"As far as we are concerned, we put it to bed," he said, at a campaign stop in the outskirts of Tampa.
After Monday night's debate -- hours before a single document was released -- Stuart Stevens, Romney's top strategist, similarly declared: "I think we are beyond it now."
This may be wishful thinking on the Romney campaign's part, but it is certainly working overtime to shut down any continuing focus on the matter. The documents unveiled Tuesday morning contained few surprises: they showed that Romney is incredibly wealthy and pays low tax rates on the money he makes. The former Bain Capital CEO paid an effective tax rate of 13.9 percent on $21.6 million in largely investment income from 2010.
But the files also raised a number of questions, including why Romney only released one full year of returns when he offered the McCain presidential campaign more than 20 years when he was being vetted as a possible running mate, and whether or not it was fair that he could afford the aid of pricey accountants when others could not.
Aides to Romney were peppered with these exact questions during his Tuesday morning event in Tampa, and they stuck largely to the same script.
Romney, said Ferhnstom, "paid a lot of money in taxes, made a lot of charitable contributions and paid 100 percent of the tax that was owed to the U.S. government. In fact, if you take his total taxes paid in 2011 and add that to his charitable contributions that amounts to roughly 35 percent of his income. I think he gives away a good deal of what he earns."
It is true that Romney gives away between 30 and 35 percent of the money he takes in when you add his charitable contributions to the total -- $4 million in 2011 and $3 million in 2010, much of it to the Mormon Church. But it should be noted that many Americans end up giving away 35 percent of their money because they are taxed at that level.
The campaign's talking point that Romney had paid 100 percent of the taxes he owed, meanwhile, seemed like it should be a bare minimum requirement for a presidential candidate, rather than something to applaud.
"Absolutely," said Ferhnstrom, in apparent agreement with that assessment, "and he did it. He paid 100 percent of his taxes not a penny more, not a penny less."
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