WASHINGTON // Mitt Romney, already scrambling to steady a struggling campaign, confronted a new headache after a video surfaced showing him telling wealthy donors that almost half of all Americans "believe they are victims" entitled to extensive government support. He added that as a candidate for the White House, "my job is not to worry about those people".
At a hastily called news conference late last night, the Republican presidential candidate conceded the comments were not "elegantly stated" and that they were spoken "off the cuff".
President Barack Obama's campaign quickly seized on the video, obtained by the magazine Mother Jones and made public on a day that Mr Romney's campaign conceded it needed a change in campaign strategy to gain momentum in the presidential race.
Mr Romney allies were already trying to curb growing complaints that the campaign missed opportunities at the Republican Convention, on foreign unrest and, most crucially, on the US economy, which is seen as Mr Obama's weakest point.
"There are 47 per cent of the people who will vote for the president no matter what," Mr Romney is shown saying in a video posted online by the magazine. "There are 47 per cent who are with him, who are dependent upon government, who believe that they are victims, who believe that 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."
"Forty-seven per cent of Americans pay no income tax," Mr Romney said.
Mr 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."
In his remarks to reporters, Mr Romney did not dispute the authenticity of the hidden-camera footage, but he called for the release of the full video, instead of the clips posted online. He sought to clarify his remarks but did not apologise.
"It's not elegantly stated, let me put it that way. I was speaking off the cuff in response to a question. And I'm sure I could state it more clearly in a more effective way than I did in a setting like that," he said. "Of course I want to help all Americans. All Americans have a bright and prosperous future.
"It's a message which I am going to carry and continue to carry which is that the president's approach is attractive to people who are not paying taxes because frankly my discussion about lowering taxes isn't as attractive to them. Therefore I'm not likely to draw them into my campaign as effectively as those in the middle."
Mother Jones writer David Corn told MSNBC that the video came from a May 17 fund-raiser at the Boca Raton, Florida, home of Marc Leder, co-chief executive of the investment firm Sun Capital Partners.
The magazine had said earlier that the date and location of the remarks were not being disclosed to protect the identity of the person who provided the video. On MSNBC, Mr Corn said the source had allowed those details to be released.
About 46 per cent 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 the elderly, according to the non-partisan Tax Policy Center.
Obama's campaign called the video "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 private remarks are the latest in a string of comments from the multimillionaire Republican businessman whom Democrats have criticised as out of touch. During the primary campaign, Mr Romney insisted that he was "not concerned" about the very poor, and said that his wife drove a "couple of Cadillacs." Aides to Obama's campaign said the latest video would help them continue to make the case that Mr Romney doesn't understand the concerns of average Americans.
Voters say they believe Mr Obama has a better understanding of their problems and concerns than Mr Romney does. A CBS/New York Times poll showed 60 per cent of likely voters said Mr Obama understands the needs and problems of people like them, while 37 per cent said he did not. For Mr Romney, the same question found that 46 per cent felt he did understand people's needs, 48 per cent said he did not.