Mitt Romney speaks at a rally outside the New Hampshire state house in Concord… (Michael A. Memoli / Los Angeles…)
Reporting from Concord, N.H. — Mitt Romney said Monday that he favored a simplified tax code that would lower the tax burden for the middle class, seeming to stop short of embracing the kind of flat tax proposals being offered by his chief GOP rivals.
"Make them flatter," Romney told reporters after a rally at the New Hampshire state house. "As to what a particular tax system looks like -- you've got to look at the details and see, does it help middle-income Americans or not."
The former Massachusetts governor filed his paperwork this morning to become an official candidate in the state's primary, saying he hoped "that this time it will take," referring to his failed 2008 bid.
He praised New Hampshire Secretary of State Bill Gardner for working to preserve the state's "richly deserved" tradition of hosting the first-in-the-nation primary, after Nevada Republicans moved their caucuses back to February. He added the note: "New Hampshire is #1" as he autographed a notice of elections poster in Gardner's office that bears signatures of all the candidates who file in person.
Romney was joined in the crowded secretary of state's office by former Gov. John Sununu, who announced his endorsement of Romney over the weekend. Sununu then introduced Romney at a brief rally outside the state house, where a small group of supporters mixed with protesters -- including one in a dolphin costume -- on the chilly autumn morning.
Romney offered the group his familiar stump, promising to reduce the size of government.
"This exceptional nation will not be stopped by anything other than government becoming too big and too intrusive and too fat in our lives," he said.
Romney said afterward he thought a flat tax like Herman Cain's "9-9-9" plan would not sell in New Hampshire. Newt Gingrich, who is set to file in New Hampshire on Tuesday, says he favors an "optional" 15% flat tax for individuals.
Rick Perry, viewed by many as Romney's chief rival for the nomination, is set to offer his own flat tax in a speech Tuesday; Romney wouldn't address it, but said his own plan would look to eventually "flatten" the code.
"Middle income Americans are the ones who have been most hurt by the Obama economy, and that's why it's so important to fashion a tax system that helps [them]," Romney said.
Romney has been hard to nail down on the issue of a flat tax, alternately expressing support for the general concept -- "I love a flat tax," he said in Nashua this August -- but opposing any such plan that would end up being "huge breaks for the highest income Americans," as he said at the same event.
Sununu, a former White House chief of staff, engaged a bit more on the issue.
"If you've ever had to really pass tax legislation, you know that what you can get is a flatter tax. And I think the governor is a flatter tax," he said. "It's awfully difficult to make the numbers work to have one rate."