HARRISONBURG, Virginia - Mitt Romney said late Thursday that his secretly-filmed remarks dismissing 47 per cent of Americans as government dependents were “completely wrong.”
Fresh from a victory in the first presidential debate that seemed to get his campaign back on track after the earlier remarks derailed it, the Republican challenger addressed the controversy in an interview on Fox News.
“Clearly in a campaign with hundreds if not thousands of speeches and question and answer sessions, now and then you are going to say something (that) doesn’t out come right,” he said.
“In this case, I said something that’s just completely wrong. I absolutely believe, however, that my life has shown that I care about the 100 percent.”
The video released last month by the liberal Mother Jones website showed Romney, in a closed-door meeting with wealthy donors, saying that 47 percent of Americans paid no income taxes, viewed themselves as victims and would vote for President Barack Obama in order to keep getting government handouts.
The remarks were widely criticized — even by Romney’s fellow conservatives — and seemed to confirm the image the Obama campaign has sought to paint of an aspiring plutocrat who doesn’t care about ordinary Americans.
In a hastily called press conference after the video came out Romney admitted the remarks were “not elegantly stated” but insisted he was merely discussing campaign strategy and not dismissing half the country.
Nationwide and battleground state polls shifted in Obama’s favor in the days after the video came out, leading many pundits to speculate that it had torpedoed Romney’s years-long quest for the White House.
But on Wednesday an energized Romney delivered a surprisingly strong performance in the first of three presidential debates opposite a listless Obama, injecting new momentum into his campaign ahead of the November 6 vote.
To the surprise of many of his supporters, Obama did not mention the “47 percent” remarks during the debate.
Meanwhile, President Barack Obama landed the verbal blows he missed the previous night in his debate with Mitt Romney, clawing at his Republican foe to stop him gaining a boost in the polls. Obama went on the attack at big rallies in Colorado and Wisconsin and was energetic, combative and concise, the opposite of the tired and long-winded candidate who was decisively beaten by Romney on Wednesday night.
The president beseeched voters not to be duped by the suave debater seen by 67 million television viewers, but to focus on the “real Mitt Romney” who he said promised tax cuts for the rich and cared little for teachers.
“If you want to be president, you owe the American people the truth,” a fired-up Obama told supporters anxious not to see him fritter away his opinion poll lead with less than five weeks to go before election day on November 6.
But Obama aides admitted that they needed to take a “hard look” at their strategy before the next debate on October 16, after Romney used the first of a trio of head-to-head clashes to breathe fresh life into a sagging campaign.
Romney celebrated his debate coup with a surprise visit to a conservative conference in the Colorado city of Denver, and warned Obama’s economic policies would take America down a slippery slope to the fate of debt-laden Europe.
“I saw the president’s vision as trickle-down government, and I don’t think that’s what America believes in,” Romney said. “I see instead a prosperity that comes through freedom.”
Romney continued his victory lap in the vital swing state of Virginia, with his vice presidential nominee Paul Ryan in tow.
The Republican ticket later gained the endorsement of the National Rifle Association, the biggest gun rights lobby in the United States, which has on several occasions clashed with Obama.
The president, however, sought to capitalize on openings he missed against the well-prepared Romney, including his vow to end government subsidies for PBS television, the stomping ground of famed Sesame Street character Big Bird.
“He would get rid of regulations on Wall Street, but he’s gonna crack down on Sesame Street. Thank goodness somebody is finally cracking down on Big Bird,” Obama said in the picturesque Wisconsin college town of Madison.
The president also leaped on Romney’s comment Wednesday that he had never heard of a tax break for companies that ship jobs overseas, and would need a new accountant if it was true.
“He seems to be doing just fine with his current accountant,” he said, poking fun at Romney’s complex offshore tax arrangements, which Democrats highlight to press the case he is indifferent to middle-class struggles.
In a hiccup for the normally smooth Obama machine Thursday, the campaign missed a chance to highlight its biggest crowd so far — 30,000 — in Madison, Wisconsin, after an airport delay in Denver caused reporters to miss the event.
Top Obama aide David Axelrod promised a rethink of tactics before the next debate at Hofstra University, in New York, and said the “Artful Dodger” untruths of the Republican candidate made him hard to handle in a debate.
“We are going to take a hard look at this,” Axelrod said. “I’m sure we will make adjustments.”
Obama advisor David Plouffe played down the idea that Romney’s slick showing would reset a race led by Obama in both national polls and key battlegrounds.
“I would just humbly suggest you cast your gaze to places like Ohio and Iowa and New Hampshire, and see if the race structurally changes,” Plouffe said.
Independent fact checkers agreed that the more flagrant manipulations of the facts in Denver were committed by Romney.
“The fact checkers will have a field day on Romney,” congressional expert Thomas Mann of the Brookings Institution think tank in Washington told AFP.
“He brazenly lied on numerous occasions and that could change the story line over the next several days.”
But Obama could suffer a new jolt on Friday, with the release of the latest set of monthly jobs figures by the Labor Department, which are not expected to break a trend of disappointing data generated by a sluggish recovery.
In August, the unemployment rate fell to 8.1 percent but only 94,000 net new jobs were created, adding fuel to Romney’s claims that Obama has run out of ideas to speed up the economic recovery.