Sept. 18 (Bloomberg) -- Mitt Romney said his comments calling many Americans “victims” dependent on government weren’t “elegantly stated,” stopping short of disavowing remarks that emerged as a fresh distraction to his campaign.
The Republican presidential candidate said last night that his comments, secretly recorded at a closed-door fundraiser earlier this year, were made while “speaking off the cuff” in response to a question.
“It’s not elegantly stated,” Romney said during a news conference outside a fundraising event last night in Costa Mesa, California. “Of course I want to help all Americans -- all Americans -- have a bright and prosperous future.”
The video’s release earlier yesterday threatened to disrupt Romney’s message against President Barack Obama over the handling of the U.S. economy. It appeared as Romney seeks to reset his campaign after losing ground to Obama in several national polls after the political conventions.
In the video, Romney says “there are 47 percent of the people who will vote for the president no matter what,” according to the recording that was obtained by Mother Jones magazine from an unidentified person.
“All right -- there are 47 percent who are with him, who are dependent on government, who believe that, that they are victims, who believe that government has the responsibility to care for them,” Romney says on the video, adding they “believe that they are entitled to health care, to food, to housing.”
‘No Income Tax’
Romney, 65, also says in the video that those who favor government entitlements will not vote for him “no matter what” and are “people who pay no income tax.”
The videotaped remarks drew criticism from Obama’s re-election campaign, as it tried to continue to present Romney as a candidate who only cares about the well-off.
“It’s shocking that a candidate for president of the United States would go behind closed doors and declare to a group of wealthy donors that half the American people view themselves as ‘victims,’ entitled to handouts, and are unwilling to take ‘personal responsibility’ for their lives,” Obama campaign manager Jim Messina said in a statement. “It’s hard to serve as president for all Americans when you’ve disdainfully written off half the nation.”
Last night, Romney said Obama’s “approach is attractive to people who are not paying taxes because frankly my discussion about lowering taxes isn’t as attractive to them, and therefore I’m not likely to draw them into my campaign, as effectively as those who are in the middle.”
The former Massachusetts governor, who took just three questions from reporters, also denied that he has a different campaign theme for his donors at closed events than he does publicly for the broader electorate.
“This is the same message that I give to people,” he said during the news conference, which was pulled together so quickly that it wasn’t carried live on cable television and some reporters had to run to it from a nearby hotel. “I hope the person who has the video would put out the full material, but it’s a message which I’m going to carry and continue to carry.”
About 46 percent of U.S. households wouldn’t pay 2011 federal income taxes because of deductions and exemptions, particularly breaks for low earners and the elderly, according to a report released last year by the Washington-based Tax Policy Center. Many of those people still pay other taxes, including the federal payroll tax and state and local levies, according the report.
The video emerged less than a week after Romney was criticized by Democrats and some Republicans for his remarks chastising the Obama administration’s handling of the attacks on U.S. diplomatic posts in Egypt and Libya. Romney was also faulted for a gaffe-plagued overseas trip in July, during which he upset the London leaders of the 2012 Summer Olympics by questioning their security arrangements.
A nationwide poll released Sept. 14 by CBS News and the New York Times showed Obama with a three-percentage-point edge among likely voters, and surveys in battleground states have shown him with larger margins.
Senior Romney adviser Ed Gillespie told reporters on a conference call yesterday that “the timing is right at this moment to reinforce the specifics, more specifics, of the Romney plan for a stronger middle class.”
Gillespie called the change a “natural progression” after voters learned more about Romney’s biography during last month’s Republican National Convention in Tampa, Florida. He said the effort wouldn’t outline new policies and instead would seek to help voters better understand Romney’s plans through speeches, appearances by surrogates and paid advertising.
The shift in tactics came as the Romney campaign is dealing with a report in Politico on Sept. 16 that said his aides are divided over the leadership role and style of his chief strategist Stuart Stevens. Romney, in an interview yesterday with the Telemundo television network, said he has a “terrific campaign” and there will be “no changes” to his team.
Romney yesterday received his first classified national security briefing at a federal office building in Los Angeles. The practice is customary for presidential nominees. Obama received his first such briefing as the Democratic nominee at an FBI office in Chicago on Sept. 2, 2008.
In an effort to cut into Obama’s support among Hispanic voters, Romney told the U.S. Hispanic Chamber of Commerce convention in Los Angeles he’d help small businesses grow as well as pursue “permanent” immigration reform.
“Candidate Obama promised us a world of limitless hope,” Romney said. “What we got instead is a world where hope has painful limits -- limits that make it harder to start a business, to grow a business, or to find a job.”
In a recorded message aired at the Hispanic convention, Obama said the choice in the election “couldn’t be bigger,” as he suggested that an Arizona law cracking down on illegal immigrants could become a “model for the nation” with a federal government under Republican control.
Obama campaigned yesterday in Ohio, where he touted a trade complaint against China over auto-industry subsidies. The case accuses China of illegally subsidizing exports of automobiles and auto parts. It was the administration’s second complaint related to the auto industry since Obama began his re-election campaign.
Obama accused Romney of taking part in the shift of jobs from the U.S. to China when the private equity firm he led, Bain Capital LLC, took over companies.
The president also contrasted his plan to extend tax cuts only on incomes up to $250,000 with Romney’s call to also expand tax cuts on higher earnings.
Giving millionaires more tax cuts won’t bring more jobs to Ohio, Obama said in Columbus.
“You can only buy so many yachts,” he said.
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