By Justin Sink - 09/18/12 02:48 AM EDT
Mitt Romney sought Monday night to limit the damage to his campaign from a leaked video of him speaking candidly in May at a closed-door private fundraiser, saying his comments were "not elegantly stated" and that he was "speaking off the cuff."
"I'm sure I could state it more clearly in a more effective way than I did in a setting like that," Romney said at a hastily arranged press conference in Orange County, Calif.
"There are 47 percent of the people who will vote for the president no
matter what," Romney is shown saying. "All right, there are 47 percent
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 healthcare, to
food, to housing, to you name it."
The GOP presidential nominee goes on to say his "job is is not to worry about those people. I'll never convince them they should take personal responsibility and care for their lives."
Romney at the Monday night press conference called on the distributor of the tape to release a full version — only snippets have been posted to the website of Mother Jones magazine — and defended the comments as generally in line with the arguments he has made publicly.
"This is the same message that I give to people which is that we have a different approach, the president and I, between a government-dominated society and a society driven by free people pursuing their dreams," Romney said.
Democrats immediately seized on the video, which threatens to ruin what had been an orchestrated reboot of Romney's presidential campaign after criticism from Republican allies frustrated by the nominee's strategy.
"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," said Obama campaign manager Jim Messina. "It’s hard to serve as president for all Americans when you’ve disdainfully written off half the nation.”
That Romney decided to address the swelling controversy Monday night was further evidence that the campaign was concerned about the effect it could have. The Republican hopeful looked to downplay the remarks, arguing that the "47 percent" remark that Democrats have cast as divisive was merely a frank look at each candidate's base.
"Typically I don't talk about process in speeches because I think candidates are wiser to talk about policy and their vision than to talk about how they're going to win an election at a fundraiser," Romney said. "You have people say how are you going is to win this and so I respond, the president has his group, I have my group. I want to keep my team strong and motivated and I want to get the people in the middle. And it's something which fundraiser people are interested in, can you win or not."
Earlier in the press conference, Romney said he simply meant to say that he would be targeting swing voters with his messaging.
"I believe the point I was made is that the president starts off with a large number of the voters, 47, 48, 49 percent, something like that," Romney said. "These are people who are in his camp and they will vote for him almost no matter what, and I also have a large number of people who will vote for me almost no matter what — at least I hope so — and my campaign effort is to focus on the people in the middle. The people I will try and draw into my campaign are largely people who voted for Barack Obama last time around and who I want to have as part of my campaign."
But in a preview of what is likely to be a chorus of Democratic attacks launched Tuesday, senior Obama adviser David Axelrod mocked Romney's explanation on Twitter late Monday night.
"Q for Mitt," Axelrod wrote. "So how DO you 'elegantly state' that half of America sees themselves as 'victims' who refuse to take personal responsibility?"
And the Obama campaign e-mailed supporters late Monday night with a fundraising ask that played off Romney's comments.
"The man who spoke these words— who demonstrates such disgust and disdain for half of our fellow Americans — is the other side's choice for president of the United States. He wants to lead our country," wrote Messina in the e-mail. "If we don't come through for President Obama right now, this will be the guy making big decisions that affect us and our families every single day."
Romney took only three questions during the press conference, and immediately left the stage. The Republican nominee is not scheduled to have any public appearances on Tuesday.
Updated at 11:31 p.m.