U.S. Republican presidential nominee and former Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney addresses the U.S. Hispanic Chamber of Commerce in Los Angeles, California, September 17, 2012.
(Photo : Reuters/Jim Young)
Republican Mitt Romney struggled on Tuesday to stabilize his reeling presidential campaign after a secretly recorded video showed him belittling President Barack Obama's supporters as victims who are too dependent on government.
The video from a closed-door fundraiser in Florida in May sparked another wave of criticism of Romney's gaffe-plagued campaign and raised fresh questions about his ability to come from behind in the polls and win the White House in November.
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In the video, the first part of which was published on Monday by the liberal Mother Jones magazine, Romney tells donors that 47 percent of Americans will back Obama no matter what and "my job is not to worry about those people."
He said they do not pay income taxes and are people "who are dependent upon government, who believe that they are victims, who believe the government has a responsibility to care for them."
The clip was shot at the luxurious home in Boca Raton, Florida, of Marc Leder, a private equity executive.
The camera appears to have been hidden behind a marble-topped sideboard and shows Romney addressing at least half a dozen people who are sitting eating. Waiters, some wearing white gloves, serve the guests.
Romney also told donors that Palestinians have no interest in pursuing a peace agreement with Israel and achieving a separate Palestinian state would not be possible.
"I look at the Palestinians not wanting to see peace anyway, for political purposes, committed to the destruction and elimination of Israel, and these thorny issues, and I say there's just no way," Romney said.
The video unleashed a fresh wave of criticism from some Republicans who were already frustrated by Romney's failure to capitalize politically on a struggling economy and a high 8.1 unemployment rate.
William Kristol, editor of the conservative Weekly Standard, called Romney's comments "stupid and arrogant." David Brooks, a conservative columnist in The New York Times, said Romney did not appear to understand American culture.
"It's what self-satisfied millionaires say to each other. It reinforces every negative view people have about Romney," Brooks wrote. "He's running a depressingly inept presidential campaign."
Linda McMahon, a Republican U.S. Senate candidate in Connecticut, distanced herself from Romney's comments, saying she disagreed and "the vast majority of those who rely on government are not in that situation because they want to be."
The video capped a difficult two weeks for Romney, who has fallen slightly behind Obama in opinion polls, taken heavy criticism for a hasty attack on the president during assaults on U.S. diplomatic compounds in Egypt and Libya and faced damaging news reports about infighting in his campaign team.
It also reinforced criticism that the millionaire former head of the private equity firm Bain Capital is out of touch with average Americans, a theme the Obama campaign has hammered home all summer through advertisements.
Romney held a Monday night news conference in California to try to contain the damage but did not back away from the remarks about Obama supporters that have drawn sharp criticism from Obama's camp and even some Republican allies.
"It's not elegantly stated, let me put it that way," Romney said. "I'm speaking off the cuff in response to a question."
Democrats pounced on the chance to criticize Romney for the comments and launched a new ad campaign focused on them.
White House spokesman Jay Carney suggested Romney had been unpresidential.
"When you're president of the United States, you are president of all the people, not just the people who voted for you," Carney told reporters. "The president certainly does not think that men and women on Social Security are irresponsible, are victims, that students are irresponsible or are victims."
On the West Bank, Palestinians said Romney was wrong to accuse them of not seeking peace.
"No one stands to gain more from peace with Israel than Palestinians and no one stands to lose more in the absence of peace than Palestinians," chief Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erekat told Reuters. "Only those who want to maintain the Israeli occupation will claim the Palestinians are not interested in peace."
The videos fuss overshadowed an effort by Romney's campaign to offer more economic policy specifics and issue a set of hard-hitting new television ads to address rising worries from Republicans about the direction of his campaign.
But Romney adviser Kevin Madden said the firestorm over the video would not distract from the campaign's economic focus.
"I still think this is an election that's focused on the economy, it's focused on the direction of the country, and I think the voters right now who have yet to make up their mind are still viewing it through the lens of that," Madden said.
Some Republicans rallied to Romney's defense. Former White House Chief of Staff John Sununu, a Romney adviser, said the Obama campaign was trying to wage class warfare.
The clips come seven weeks before the November 6 election and just more than two weeks before the first presidential debate on October 3, which may be Romney's best chance to change the direction of the White House race.
Romney regained some ground on Obama in a Reuters/Ipsos online poll on Tuesday, trailing by 4 percentage points, 47 percent to 43 percent. Romney had trailed by 5 points on Monday. The national Real Clear Politics average of polls gave Obama a 2.9-point lead over Romney.
Romney's comments about the 47 percent of Americans who do not pay taxes and are dependent on government were not a new theme for Republicans, but it was a largely accurate figure.
About 46 percent of U.S. households paid no federal income tax in 2011, according to the bipartisan Tax Policy Center, although almost two-thirds of those paid an employment tax to support the Social Security and Medicare programs.
In most cases, it was elderly and poor households that do not pay federal income tax, the center said. About half of those who pay no tax are allowed to do so because their incomes are too low.