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 and adding that as a candidate for the White House, "my job is not to worry about those people."
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 conceded it needed a change in campaign strategy to gain momentum in the presidential race.
"There are 47 percent of the people who will vote for the president no matter what," Romney is shown saying in a video published by the magazine. "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 health care, to food, to housing, to you name it."
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Romney said his role "is not to worry about those people. I'll never convince them they should take personal responsibility and care for their lives."
Romney's campaign did not dispute the authenticity of the video, instead releasing a statement seeking to clarify his remarks. "Mitt Romney wants to help all Americans struggling in the Obama economy," spokeswoman Gail Gitcho said. "He is concerned about the growing number of people who are dependent on the federal government."
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 immediately criticized Romney, calling the statement "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.
The remarks came at a closed-door fundraiser that Mother Jones reported occurred after Romney had clinched the GOP nomination. To protect the identity of the person who provided the remarks, Mother Jones blurred out the video and did not provide the date or location of the fundraiser. Romney formally clinched the nomination May 29 and formally accepted it last month at the Republican convention in Tampa.
Many of the Americans who owe no income tax are reprieved because basic exemptions — such as the "standard deduction" — took their taxable income below the cutoff levels. The other half rely mainly on a variety of tax breaks, such as the credit that helps offset child care costs.
These Americans range from the very poor to solidly middle-class families with jobs, homes, cars and vacations. The Tax Policy Center says "relatively few nontaxable households" have incomes exceeding $100,000; families that make between $50,000 and $100,000 often owe no income tax because of breaks for their kids and for education.
Americans who pay no federal income tax still often pay an array of other taxes. They include payroll taxes for Social Security and Medicare, sales taxes, property taxes and state and local taxes.
Obama faced a similar moment in the 2008 campaign, when he told donors that many Americans who are angry about their struggles "cling to their guns or religion."
Romney's running mate, Wisconsin Rep. Paul Ryan, made reference to that remark Monday at a campaign event in Des Moines, Iowa.
"I remember that one time when he was talking to a bunch of donors in San Francisco and he said people like us, people from the Midwest like to cling to their guns and religion," Ryan said.
He went on: "And I've got to tell you this Catholic deer hunter is guilty as charged and proud to say so. That's just weird. Who says things like that? That's just strange.
The former Massachusetts governor says that “women are open to supporting me” – and added that he has not attacked Obama as strongly as some donors might like because the campaign does not want to alienate the independent voters who supported the president in 2008 but are now disenchanted with his policies.
“Those people that we have to get, they want to believe they did the right thing, but he just wasn't up to the task. They love the phrase that he's ‘over his head.’” Romney says. “And the best success I have at speaking with those people is saying, you know, the president has been a disappointment.
“These are the kinds of things that I can say to that audience that they nod their head and say, ‘Yeah, I think you're right,” Romney continues. “What he's going to do, by the way, is try and vilify me as someone who's been successful, or who's, you know, closed businesses or laid people off, and is an evil bad guy. And that may work.”
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The Mother Jones report came on Monday as Romney pledged to help small businesses grow to pursue “permanent immigration reform” as he tries to cut into Obama’s support among Hispanic voters. Romney spoke to the U.S. Hispanic Chamber of Commerce, meeting in Los Angeles.
In the video, Romney does discuss the difficulty his campaign is having reaching Hispanics.
“If the Hispanic voting bloc becomes as committed to the Democrats as the African-American voting block has in the past, why, we're in trouble as a party and, I think, as a nation," he says in the video.
Generally, Romney generally sticks to familiar talking points: discussing the economy and how his plans will create jobs. But he does tell the gathering that he is a self-made millionaire who earned his own fortune.
“I have inherited nothing,” he says in the video. “There is a perception, ‘Oh, we were born with a silver spoon, he never had to earn anything and so forth.’ Frankly, I was born with a silver spoon, which is the greatest gift you can have: which is to get born in America.”
The Associated Press and Bloomberg News contributed to this report.
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