By Geneva Sands-Sadowitz - 02/01/12 01:32 PM EST
Republican presidential front-runner Mitt Romney said Wednesday he "is not concerned about the very poor" and is instead focused on the middle class.
Romney, who also said he was not worried about the very rich, explained that he was not concerned about the poor because of the "safety net," which he said included Medicare, food stamp programs and housing assistance.
In contrast, he said the 90 to 95 percent of the country who are middle-class are struggling. He said he was running for president for those people.
"I'm not concerned about the very rich; they're doing just fine. I'm concerned about the very heart of America. The 90, 95 percent of Americans who right now are struggling," Romney said.
When asked to explain by CNN host Soledad O’Brien why he wasn't concerned for the "very poor," Romney clarified that he believes the poorest Americans have a safety net, while the middle class faces more uncertainty.
"I said I'm not concerned about the very poor that have a safety net, but if it has holes in it, I will repair them. The challenge right now — we will hear from the Democrat Party, the plight of the poor and there's no question it's not good being poor and we have a safety net to help those that are very poor, but my campaign is focused on middle-income Americans," Romney said.
"We pick and choose where to focus. You can focus on the rich — that's not my focus — you can focus on the very poor — that's not my focus," he added.
This isn't the first time Romney has distinguished between helping the middle class and the poor. He has previously talked about how middle-class voters need help in the tax code, while the poor already have a safety net to help them.
Still, his latest comments are likely to be seized upon by Democrats who will argue Romney's own wealth puts him out of touch with both poor and middle-class people who have struggled with the economy.
Romney on Wednesday said he is specifically concerned for soldiers returning from war, retirees living on Social Security, the unemployed and jobless as well as parents with children going to college.
"These are the people who have been most badly hurt during the Obama years. We have a very ample safety net and we can talk about whether it needs to be strengthened or whether there are holes in it, but we have food stamps, we have Medicaid, we have housing vouchers. We have programs to help the poor, but the middle-income Americans there are the folks that are really struggling right now and they need someone that can help get the economy going for them," Romney said.
In an email to the The Hill, a Romney campaign spokesperson slammed Obama’s handling of the economy.
“There are nearly 1.7 million fewer jobs in America today than when President Obama took office,” the spokesperson said.
“President Obama admits he underestimated the depth of the economic crisis and failed to address the housing crisis. Despite all this, the president finds it ‘interesting’ that a hard-working American – like 13 million others – can’t find a job in the Obama economy."
Obama took heat this week for showing surprise during an online interview on social media site Google+ when a woman said her husband – an engineer – could not find work. Obama said their situation was “interesting” and asked the woman to send him her husband’s resume.
This story was updated at 12:00 PM to reflect Romney's campaign response.
—Jonathan Easley contributed to this story.