Leaked videos put Romney campaign on the defensive

McClatchy NewspapersSeptember 18, 2012 

— On a day when Mitt Romney's presidential campaign vowed that he'd provide more specifics on his policies and positions, the campaign found itself responding to some potentially damaging specifics that Romney uttered at a closed-door fundraiser.

In a video obtained by Mother Jones, Romney characterizes supporters of President Barack Obama as irresponsible, non-taxpaying, "victims" who are strictly dependent upon government in almost all aspects of their lives.

Romney's campaign Monday night didn't challenge the authenticity or editing of the undated video. Instead, campaign Communications Director Gail Gitcho released a statement saying that "Mitt Romney wants to help all Americans struggling in the Obama economy."

"As the governor has made clear all year, he is concerned about the growing number of people who are dependent on the federal government, including the record number of people who are on food stamps..., Gitcho said. "Mitt Romney's plan creates 12 million new jobs in four years. grows the economy and moves Americans off of government dependency and into jobs."

In the video, Romney is standing and addressing a group of people whose faces are blurred out. In one portion of the video Romney says "There are 47 percent of the people who will vote for the president no matter what."

"All right, there are 47 percent who are with him, who are dependent upon government, who believe that they are victims, who believethe government has a responsibility to care for them, who belive that they are entitled to health care, to food, to housing, to you name it," he added. "That's an entitlement. And the government should give it to them. And they will vote for this president no matter what...These are people who pay no income tax."

Romney said he doesn't worry about these people because "I'll never convince them they should take personal responsibility and care for their lives."

Instead, Romney said he needs to focus on the "five or six" percent of independent voters who may be more receptive to his campaign message.

Needless to say, Obama's campaign pounced on the video with the same zeal that Romney's camp jumped on Obama's "You didn't build that" line that has become a Republican rallying cry.

"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," Obama campaign manager Jim Messina said in a statement. "It's hard to serve as president for all Americans when you've disdainfully written off half the nation."

Romney didn't limit his remarks to entitlements, according to Mother Jones. Alluding to the fact that his father, the late Gov. George Romney of Michigan, was born in Mexico, Mitt Romney joked to the fundraiser audience that "Had he been born of Mexican parents, I'd have a better shot of winning this."

He added that his presidential campaign is having a hard time attracting Hispanic voters. He warned that "if the Hispanic voting bloc becomes as committed to the Democrats as the African American voting bloc has in the past, why, we're in trouble as a party and, I think, as a nation," according to Mother Jones.

Ironically, Mother Jones unveiled the video on the same day Romney addressed the U.S. Hispanic Chamber of Commerce in Los Angeles.

"I am so please to represent the party of Governor Susana Martinez, Governor Brian Sandoval, Governor Luis Fortuno, Senator Marco Rubio, and the Texas Republican candidate for the U.S. Senate, Ted Cruz," Romney said Monday in prepared remarks. "These leaders are Republicans for the same reasons as millions of other Hispanics: they see that ours is the party of opportunity, the party that will restore America's prosperity."

Romney's campaign had already been hearing complaints that he’s failing to show Americans why they should elect him, and on Monday it declared that the Republican candidate will give more specifics on his proposals in the weeks leading to November’s election.

Hoping to stop a growing media narrative that the Romney camp is in disarray, key advisers characterized the shift as “a natural progression” rather than a response to a compilation of recent bad news that includes President Barack Obama leading in key swing states and harsh criticism of Romney – even among some Republicans – for breaking with tradition and blasting Obama last week for his handling of deadly violence in Libya and Egypt as the events were still unfolding.

“We do think the timing is right to reinforce more specifics about the Romney plan for a strong middle class,” senior Romney adviser Ed Gillespie said. “There are a lot of Americans out there who are just starting to lock in and starting to look for more information, and now is the time for us to provide that for them.”

"We’re not rolling out new policies,” he added, “so much as we are making sure people understand when we say we can do these things, here’s how we’re going to get them done and these are the specifics.”

Monday’s call to reporters followed complaints from Republicans and conservative pundits that Romney has been too vague about exactly what he’d do if he were elected. They’ve argued that he devoted too much of the Republican National Convention and his prime-time speech there to showing his human side and not enough to proposed policies that would draw a sharp contrast between the former Massachusetts governor and Obama.

“Neither he nor the entire GOP convention made a case for his economic policy agenda. He and Paul Ryan promised to help the middle class, but they never explained other than in passing how they would do it,” the conservative editorial page of The Wall Street Journal said.

“You didn’t get a lot if detail on what he would do if he got the job, and people want to see that,” said Keith Appell, a veteran conservative political strategist. “If they are going to give more detail, many people on the center-right would agree with them.”

Post-convention polls only heightened concern.

A new Marist poll for NBC and The Wall Street Journal found Romney trailing Obama in three swing states – Florida, Ohio and Virginia – though an average of several polls suggests that each state remains closely competitive.

Romney also appears to have lost ground on what many thought would be his strong suit against the incumbent president: taxes. Recent polls find that more Americans think Obama would be better on tax issues than Romney, who’s called for lowering personal and corporate taxes.

“At this point, it can only help Romney to draw a clear and focused contrast on what Obama failed to do and what he (Romney) will do” as president, Appell said.

Romney sought to do that in his speech Monday to the U.S. Hispanic Chamber of Commerce in Los Angeles. He reiterated a five-point economic plan he unveiled last month that calls for increasing energy independence by approving offshore oil exploration and approving construction of the Keystone XL pipeline; revamping U.S. trade policy, in part by expanding trade with Latin America; reducing federal spending by 10 percent through attrition and combining unspecified federal agencies; increasing access to higher education; and repealing the 2010 federal health care law.

“The president has put us on the road to Greece,” Romney said in prepared remarks, alluding to the economically distressed European nation. “I will put us back on the road to a stronger America, one which stops spending more than we take in.”

Romney also made specific references to how today’s economy has affected the nation’s Hispanic community and businesses. Some Republican political consultants say he’s done little since the convention to whittle away at the advantage the president has with Hispanic voters.

Obama received 67 percent of the Hispanic vote in 2008. A Latino Decisions poll taken after the Democratic convention showed the president with a 66-29 percent lead over Romney among Hispanics.

In his speech, Romney chastised Obama as failing to lead on overhauling immigration laws, an issue that’s been tied up in Congress for years.

He repeated his opposition to the DREAM Act, a proposal to provide a citizenship path to the children of illegal immigrants, but he reaffirmed his support for allowing illegal immigrants who serve in the U.S. military to become citizens.

“I want to make the system far more simple and transparent. You shouldn’t have to hire lawyers to find out how to legally immigrate to the United States,” Romney said without adding details. “I will shift our diversity visas to instead bring together immediate family members. I will structure our temporary worker visa program so that it meets the needs of our employers. And if someone gets an advanced degree, I want them to stay here, so I’d staple a green card to their diploma.”

Watch the full Romney fundraiser video.

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