By Justin Sink - 09/18/12 08:41 PM EDT
Mitt Romney's campaign looked to pivot Tuesday from his controversial "47 percent" comment by highlighting new audio that shows President Obama saying in 1998 that he "believe[s] in redistribution."
The Republican presidential candidate, appearing on Fox News, defended his comments during which he said "47 percent" of voters are "dependent on the government" by saying he was drawing a contrast between his own economic vision and that of the president's.
Romney was referencing a YouTube video linked prominently on the influential website the Drudge Report. It's from a 1998 conference at Loyola University. In the clip, Barack Obama, who was an Illinois state senator the time, discusses fighting against anti-government sentiment through government reforms, and says that he believes in the idea of redistribution.
"I think the trick is figuring out how do we structure government systems that pool resources, and hence facilitate some redistribution, because I actually believe in redistribution, at least at a certain level, to make sure that everybody has a shot," Obama says.
Romney is struggling to regain his footing after Mother Jones posted a video of him speaking to a fundraiser earlier this year. Democrats seized on the remarks he made and even some Republicans have expressed alarm over them.
Seeing an opportunity to turn the tide on comments he himself admitted were “not elegantly stated” and spoken “off the cuff," Romney looked repeatedly to pivot focus to the new Obama clip.
"We are compassionate people but we let people build their own lives," the GOP nominee said on Fox News. "We believe in free people and free enterprise, not redistribution. It's to creates growth and not to redistribute wealth."
It's not the only time Obama has discussed redistribution.
During the 2008 campaign, Republicans hammered then-candidate Obama when he suggested to Samuel "Joe the Plumber" Wurzelbacher that "when you spread the wealth around, it’s good for everybody."
The Obama campaign referenced that incident in rebutting Romney's attack.
“The Romney campaign is so desperate to change the subject that they’ve gone back to the failed playbook co-authored by Sarah Palin and Joe the Plumber," said Obama campaign press secretary Ben LaBolt. "Fourteen years ago, then-Senator Obama was making an argument for a more efficient, more effective government – specifically citing city government agencies that he didn’t think were working effectively. He believed then, and believes now, that there are steps we can take to promote opportunity and ensure that all Americans have a fair shot if they work hard. Unlike Governor Romney, he doesn’t believe that if you’re a student who applies for a loan you’re looking for a handout.”
Fox News host Neil Cavuto did press Romney on whether he had called the 47 percent of Americans who did not pay federal income tax — which includes members of the military and seniors receiving only Social Security income — "moochers."
"I was talking about the fact I don't expect to get 60-70 percent of the vote," Romney said. "I understand some portion will be the president's. Some portion will be mine. I've got to get as many as I can from every single cohort in this country. The intent I want to talk about was the fact you have a great divide about whether we want a government that is larger and more intrusive and redistributing income or instead you wanted have government had a protecting freedom and opportunity and letting more people build more wealth."
Asked about Donald Trump's suggestion he not apologize for his remarks, Romney said he "always appreciate his counsel," and that he too was eager for a discussion on the economy.
"The president is borrowing trillion dollars more than we are taking in every year. It's a pathway that looks more European than American in my view," Romney said. "It's one that I think some Americans are drawn to. [I] think they are wrong. They don't recognize it's not good for America at large."
Romney added that he "wasn't too concerned" about reports that former President Jimmy Carter's son had been involved in unearthing the fundraiser interview.
"Look, this is a message I'm carrying day in and day out and will carry," Romney said. "This is a decision about the course of America."
This post was updated at 5:41 p.m.