LOS ANGELES - Mitt Romney's presidential campaign has been dealt a new distraction after a video surfaced showing him dismissing President Barack Obama's supporters as people who take no responsibility for their livelihoods and who think they are entitled to government handouts.
In the video, published by Mother Jones magazine, the Republican presidential nominee tells a private audience of campaign donors that the backers will vote for Mr Obama "no matter what" and that he does not "worry about those people."
Romney: Victims comment not elegantly stated
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Romney: Victims comment not elegantly stated
Secretly filmed video clip which records Mitt Romney describing almost half of Americans as "victims" was "not elegantly stated", and was "spoken off the cuff".
"There are 47 per cent who are with him, who are dependent upon government, who believe that they are victims, who believe the government has a responsibility to care for them, who believe that they are entitled to health care, to food, to housing, to you name it," Mr Romney said. "These are people who pay no income tax."
He added that his job "is not to worry about those people. I'll never convince them they should take personal responsibility and care for their lives."
The author of the Mother Jones article said the fundraiser took place on May 17th, in Boca Raton, Florida, at a the home of Marc Leder, a private equity manager.
In the video, Mr Romney uses language that is far more blunt than it is in his public appearances. His remarks could undermine recent attempts by his campaign to present him as a caring and charitable leader in his church and community.
Speaking to reporters Monday night in Costa Mesa, California, where he was attending a fundraiser, Mr Romney stood by his comments, saying he was talking about campaign strategy, not his vision for the country.
"It's not elegantly stated. . . . I'm speaking off the cuff in response to a question," he said. "We have a very different approach, the president and I, between a government-dominated society and a society driven by free people pursuing their dreams."
Asked what he meant by the words "victims" and "personal responsibility," Mr Romney said that he was "talking about the political process of drawing people into my own campaign."
"Of course individuals are going to take responsibility for their lives," he said. "My campaign is about helping people take more responsibility and becoming employed again, particularly those who don't have work. This whole campaign is based on getting people jobs again, putting people back to work," he said.
"This is ultimately a question about direction for the country. Do you believe in a government-centred society that provides more and more benefits or do you believe instead in a free-enterprise society where people are able to pursue their dreams?"
The Obama campaign quickly seized on the video.
"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. It's hard to serve as president for all Americans when you've disdainfully written off half the nation," Obama campaign manager Jim Messina said in a statement.
An Obama campaign official, speaking on the condition of anonymity, said later that it is possible that excerpts from the video will show up in a forthcoming campaign ad.
In the video, Romney said that he does not vilify the president because his own campaign's discussions with focus groups of independent voters who supported Obama in 2008 suggest that tough talk does not work.
"When you say to them, 'Do you think Barack Obama is a failure?' they overwhelmingly say, 'No,' " Romney said. "They love the phrase that he's 'over his head.' . . . We spend our days with people who agree with us. And these people are people who voted for him and don't agree with us. And so the things that animate us are not the things that animate them."
Candidates tend to talk more freely at closed-door fundraisers than they do publicly, and when those remarks leak out, they can create controversy. In 2008, Mr Obama told supporters at a San Francisco fundraiser that small-town Pennsylvania voters "get bitter, they cling to guns or religion" - a quote that was used against him Monday by Mr Romney's running mate, Paul Ryan, during a campaign event in Des Moines.
The mention of Mr Obama's 2008 remarks - and Mr Ryan's "This Catholic deer hunter is guilty as charged" rejoinder - has been a staple of the GOP vice-presidential nominee's stump speech.
In the video, Mr Romney also noted his deficit in the polls among Hispanic voters and joked about his family background. His father, George, was born in Mexico while his American grandparents lived there. "Had he been born of Mexican parents, I'd have a better shot of winning this."
He added: "I say that jokingly, but it would be helpful to be Latino."
The video, released in bits and pieces, appears to have been captured by a hidden camera during a question-and-answer session that was closed to reporters. Ten separate portions of the video, including Mr Romney's remarks about Obama supporters, were first posted on YouTube on August 27 by a user identified as "Anne Onymous," who is listed as having joined the video service that day. The user's account includes a picture of a young woman, and lists their location as "China."
Earlier Monday, Mother Jones said on its Web site that it blurred some parts of the video and was withholding the date and location of the event to protect a "confidential source" who provided it. The magazine said the fundraiser occurred after Mr Romney had all but secured the nomination in mid-April.