Mitt Romney, tax returns and speaker's fees

David Horsey / Los Angeles Times

As Mitt Romney travels through South Carolina, fending off his opponents' charges that he is a vulture capitalist, the front-runner for the Republican presidential nomination may now need to battle a perception that he's just another out-of-touch rich guy.

On Tuesday, while campaigning as the guy who can create jobs for the jobless, he revealed to reporters that he paid about a 15% income tax rate last year -- a share of income that is a lot less than many average working stiffs shell out to the government. And, in a casual remark, he mentioned speaking fees that amount to "not very much."

As The Times reported, some quick research into his financial disclosure forms showed that "not very much" added up to $374,000 between February 2010 and February 2011.

Everybody already knows that Romney grew up wealthy and now is worth several hundred million bucks. Simply being rich, however, has never been much of a handicap for American politicians -- think FDR and JFK. On the other hand, appearing rich and disconnected from the concerns of average Americans has, indeed, handicapped more than one candidacy -- think George H.W. Bush and John Kerry.

Is Romney on the verge of alienating the struggling middle-income voters he needs to attract? Maybe we'll get a clue when South Carolinians cast their ballots on Saturday.

RELATED:

Romney freaks out Rush

Who wears the pants in Romney's family?

Mitt Romney fumbles common touch regarding money