WASHINGTON (AP) — Already scrambling to steady a struggling campaign, Republican Mitt Romney confronted a new headache Monday after a video surfaced showing him telling wealthy donors that almost half of all Americans ‘‘believe they are victims’’ entitled to extensive government support. He added that as a candidate for the White House, ‘‘my job is not to worry about those people.’’
At a hastily called news conference late in the day, Romney offered no apologies for his remarks and when he was asked if he was concerned he had offended anyone, he conceded the comments weren’t ‘‘elegantly stated’’ and they were spoken ‘‘off the cuff.’’
President Barack Obama’s campaign quickly seized on the video, obtained by the magazine Mother Jones and made public on a day that Romney’s campaign said it needed a change in campaign strategy to gain momentum in the presidential race. Romney aides were already working behind the scenes to calm dissension in the GOP ranks and reassure nervous donors and consultants about the state of a race some Republicans worry may be getting away from their nominee.
‘‘There are 47 percent of the people who will vote for the president no matter what,’’ Romney is shown saying in a video posted online by the magazine. ‘‘There are 47 percent who are with him, who are dependent upon government, who believe that they are victims, who believe that 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.’’
‘‘Forty-seven percent of Americans pay no income tax,’’ Romney said.
Romney said in the video that his role ‘‘is not to worry about those people. I'll never convince them they should take personal responsibility and care for their lives.’’
In his remarks to reporters before a fundraiser Monday night in Costa Mesa, Calif., Romney did not dispute the authenticity of the hidden-camera footage, but he called for the release of the full video, instead of the clips posted online. He sought to clarify his remarks but did not apologize.
‘‘It’s not elegantly stated, let me put it that way. I was speaking off the cuff in response to a question. And I'm sure I could state it more clearly in a more effective way than I did in a setting like that,’’ Romney said. ‘‘Of course I want to help all Americans. All Americans have a bright and prosperous future.’’
About 46 percent of Americans owed no federal income tax in 2011, although many of them paid other forms of taxes. More than 16 million elderly Americans avoid federal income taxes solely because of tax breaks that apply only to seniors, according to the nonpartisan Tax Policy Center.
Obama’s campaign called the video ‘‘shocking’’
‘‘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 adviser said the Democratic campaign might use Romney’s comments from the fundraising video in television advertisements. The official wasn’t authorized to discuss campaign strategy publicly and requested anonymity.
Romney’s 2010 federal tax returns show he paid a tax rate of about 14 percent on an annual income of $21 million. The vast majority of his income came from investments, which are taxed at a lower rate than wages. His wealth has been estimated as high as $250 million.
Democrats have tried to make an issue of what Romney pays in taxes and what he is willing to divulge about his taxes and investments. While he has released his 2010 tax returns and a summary of his 2011 returns, he has rejected calls for releasing as many as 10 years of tax returns. His campaign has pledged to release his complete 2011 returns before the election Nov. 6.
The private remarks are the latest in a string of comments from the multimillionaire Republican businessman whom Democrats have criticized as out of touch. During the primary campaign, Romney insisted that he was ‘‘not concerned’’ about the very poor, said he knew what it felt like to worry about being ‘‘pink-slipped,’’ and said that his wife drove a ‘‘couple of Cadillacs.’’ Aides to Obama’s campaign said the latest video would help them continue to make the case that Romney doesn’t understand the concerns of average Americans.
Romney said he would not shy away from the message behind the remarks — that Obama believes in a ‘‘government-centered society.’’
‘‘It’s a message which I am going to carry and continue to carry, which is that the president’s approach is attractive to people who are not paying taxes because, frankly, my discussion about lowering taxes isn’t as attractive to them,’’ Romney said. ‘‘Therefore I'm not likely to draw them into my campaign as effectively as those in the middle.’’Continued...