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Romney in new video blunder over Palestinians

Romney conceded that his “off the cuff” remarks were not “elegantly stated.”

WASHINGTON: Republican Mitt Romney has seven weeks before the U.S. presidential election to overcome his latest campaign stumble, a secretly made video that shows him telling wealthy donors that nearly half of Americans are dependent on the government and that his role “is not to worry about those people.”

More footage was released Tuesday morning from the same event, with Romney saying Palestinians are “committed to the destruction and elimination of Israel” and suggesting that efforts at Middle East peace under his administration would languish.

Not long after the video surfaced Monday, a tired-looking Romney held a hastily called late-night news conference and conceded his “off the cuff” remarks were not “elegantly stated.”

The Romney campaign has not disputed the video’s authenticity.

President Barack Obama’s campaign quickly seized on the video, obtained by Mother Jones magazine and posted online just as Romney’s campaign was saying it needed a change in campaign strategy to gain momentum in the still-close race.

As Obama opens a lead in the polls, Romney has been fighting off criticism from powerful Republican voices blaming him for missing opportunities at the party’s recent national convention, on Middle East unrest and on the U.S. economy, which is seen as the president’s weakest point.

Obama’s campaign called the video, taken in May at a gathering of wealthy donors in Florida, “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.

White House spokesman Jay Carney said Tuesday he didn’t know whether Obama has seen the video. Carney told a news briefing that Obama “deeply believes that we’re in this together.”

In the video, Romney says, “There are 47 percent of the people who will vote for the president no matter what. There are 47 percent 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.”

Romney added that 47 percent of Americans pay no income tax and 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.”

About 46 percent of Americans owed no federal income tax in 2011, although many of them paid other forms of taxes such as sales taxes, property taxes and state and local taxes. Many were poor or in the military. More than 16 million elderly Americans avoid federal income taxes solely because of tax breaks that apply only to the elderly, according to the nonpartisan Tax Policy Center.

In the video, Romney also said his father had been born in Mexico and joked, “Had he been born of Mexican parents, I’d have a better shot of winning this.”

In the seven-minute news conference late Monday, Romney called for the full release of the video, not just the clips posted online.

“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,” Romney said. “Of course I want to help all Americans. All Americans have a bright and prosperous future.”

He continued: “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.”

In the footage released Tuesday, Romney criticized Obama’s foreign policy approach as “naive.”

“The president’s foreign policy, in my opinion, is formed in part by a perception he has that his magnetism, and his charm, and his persuasiveness is so compelling that he can sit down with people like [Vladimir] Putin and [Hugo] Chavez and Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, and that they’ll find that we’re such wonderful people that they’ll go on with us, and they’ll stop doing bad things,” Romney said. “And it’s an extraordinarily naive perception.”

The private remarks are the latest comments from the multimillionaire businessman whom Democrats have criticized as out of touch. During the primary campaign for the Republican nomination, he insisted he was “not concerned” about the very poor and said his wife drove a “couple of Cadillacs.”

According to the August 2010 AP-GfK poll, a majority of Americans who make less than $30,000 a year are Democrats. But 27 percent identify as Republicans, and 15 percent say they’re independents.

Looking to change the subject, Romney’s campaign rolled out a television ad Tuesday featuring a mother and infant, aimed at cutting into Obama’s advantage with female voters.

Obama headed to New York Tuesday for a $40,000-a-ticket fundraiser with Beyonce and Jay-Z.

A CBS/New York Times poll showed 60 percent of likely voters said Obama understands the needs and problems of people like them, while 37 percent said he did not. For Romney, the same question found that 46 percent felt he did understand people’s needs, while 48 percent said he didn’t.

 
A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Daily Star on September 19, 2012, on page 11.

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