Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney was desperately trying to steady a shaky campaign as US President Barack Obama, enjoying a burst of momentum, headed to New York for a celebrity fundraiser with Beyoncé and Jay-Z, along with a star turn on David Letterman’s couch.
Romney was trying to contain the political fallout of an unauthorised video of him telling donors that supporters of Obama — almost half of the US population — are people who live off government handouts and do not “care for their lives”.
Those people, he went on, “believe they are victims” entitled to extensive government support, before adding that, as a candidate for the White House, “my job is not to worry about those people”.
Romney was also trying to shake stories that his campaign was in disarray and looking for a change in direction seven weeks before the Nov 6 election.
In a hastily arranged meeting with reporters late on Monday, Romney said that while his comments were “not elegantly stated”, he stood by his remarks about Americans who do not pay taxes. “Those who are reliant on government are not as attracted to my message of slimming down the size of government,” he said in Costa Mesa, California.
The former Massachusetts governor did not have public events yesterday and planned to raise money in Salt Lake City and Dallas.
Looking to change the subject, Romney’s campaign rolled out a television ad featuring a mother and infant, aimed at cutting into Obama’s advantage with female voters.
Obama, meanwhile, was set to collect almost $4m (€3m) at a $40,000-a-ticket fundraiser at a Manhattan nightclub and another at the Waldorf Astoria hotel. He also planned to reach out to less-engaged voters on CBS’s Late Show With David Letterman.
Romney faced growing complaints that his campaign fumbled opportunities at the Republicans’ August convention, on foreign unrest and, most crucially, on the US economy, which is seen as Obama’s weakest point.
GOP activists and consultants have fretted as opinion polls suggest Obama has opened a small lead over Romney since the parties’ late-summer conventions.
The unexpected video, recorded in May and released late on Monday, sent Romney’s aides scrambling yet again.
“Every campaign is dysfunctional. It’s just the level that differs,” said Hogan Gidley, a Republican strategist who was a top aide to Rick Santorum’s presidential bid.
Romney surrogate Donald Trump said: “I think he has to not apologise... What he said is probably what he thinks.
“The problem they have is they are not being tough enough. I’m not saying down and dirty, but that’s exactly what President Obama is doing with them. They have to get tougher or they’re going to lose this campaign.”
The release of the secretly recorded video, posted on liberal magazine Mother Jones website, did little to calm jitters as Democrats quickly criticised Romney.
“Mitt Romney’s insulting comments during a closed-door meeting with a group of wealthy donors regarding half the people in the United States show just how out of touch he really is with middle-class families,” said Senate majority leader Harry Reid. “The job of president is to fight for everybody, regardless of their wealth or social status.”
In the video, Romney said 47% of Americans pay no income tax.
In the clip released by Mother Jones, Romney also is asked about the “Palestinian problem”. He gives a rambling response, then says “the Palestinians have no interest whatsoever in establishing peace”, and “the pathway to peace is almost unthinkable to accomplish”.
Some conservatives have complained for months that Romney needs to put more details behind his pledges to tame the budget deficit while also preserving all tax cuts and expanding military spending. Others say he mishandled a chance to criticise Obama’s foreign policy last week when the Republican nominee issued sharp remarks in the opening hours of fast-changing and complicated episodes of violence aimed at American diplomatic facilities in the Middle East.
Romney’s campaign responded, pledging to be more specific.
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