WASHINGTON - Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney is on the defensive again, this time over comments he made at a private fundraising event months ago that supporters of his Democratic opponent, President Barack Obama, depend on government and see themselves as “victims.” Political analysts say it is the latest in a series of missteps for the Romney campaign at a crucial time in the U.S. presidential race.
The Romney comments come from a secretly recorded video obtained by the liberal magazine Mother Jones magazine of a private campaign fundraiser in Florida in May.
Romney told donors that 47 percent of voters will vote for President Obama no matter what. He then went on to characterize those voters as dependent on government help and people who see themselves as “victims.”
“There are 47 percent who are with him, who are dependent on government, who believe that they are victims, who believe that the 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," said Romney.
Romney is also seen commenting on the situation in the Middle East, telling donors that the Palestinians are committed to eliminating Israel and have no interest in peace.
The Romney comments drew a sharp response from the Obama campaign. A statement said Romney's remarks are “shocking” and that the candidate had “disdainfully written off half the nation.”
Romney spoke about the leaked video clips at a news conference.
“It’s not elegantly stated, let me put it that way," said Romney. "I’m speaking off the cuff in response to a question, and I’m sure I could state it more clearly and in a more effective way.”
The Obama campaign quickly issued out a Web video ad with voters reacting to the Romney comments.
WOMAN #1: “I think the fact that Mitt Romney made all these comments behind closed doors really shows his character.”
WOMAN #2: “I just think it sends a bad message. I think it’s not the person I would want representing me.”
Political analysts say the comments could keep Romney on the defensive for a while.
Analyst Scot Faulkner is a Republican who worked for President Ronald Reagan and for Republican congressional leaders during the 1990s.
“It’s going to hurt [former Massachusetts] Governor Romney for several reasons and the first one is that people are worried about the economy, not social warfare," said Faulkner. "At best, it puts him on to a side track. And at worst, it could be a sound bite that could be replayed in countless numbers of commercials going into the election.”
Analysts say Romney is in the midst of a bad two week period for his campaign that began with little in the way of a boost in the public opinion surveys following the Republican Party's national convention in Tampa.
Romney then criticized the Obama administration’s handling of protests targeting the United States in the Middle East, especially those directed at the American embassy in Egypt. Even some Republicans thought his remarks were ill-timed given the deaths of four Americans, including U.S. Ambassador to Libya Chris Stevens, after an attack on the U.S. consulate in Benghazi.
Longtime political observer Tom DeFrank of the New York Daily News says the recent controversies have taken Romney off of his core campaign message about restoring the U.S. economy.
“I think this has not been a very good several days for Governor Romney. He looked opportunistic," said DeFrank. "He looked like jumped to say something critical before the facts were in. This has not been a wise situation for him to have waded into.”
Political strategist Matthew Dowd told ABC television’s "Good Morning America" program that Romney’s best chance to reassert himself in the presidential campaign will come with the first of three presidential debates next month.
“I think it all comes down to that first debate on October 3," said Dowd. "It is the only opportunity he is going to have to shift from these unforced errors, to shift from these cracks in the foundation and try to repair it and move on in the final 30 days [of the campaign].”
Public opinion surveys show that voters still find President Obama more likeable than Romney.
Analyst Scot Faulkner says that remains a key challenge for the Romney camp in the closing weeks of the campaign.
“Americans want a leader, but they want a leader they can relate to," said Faulkner. "In many ways, Americans are looking at a president who is not only running for president, but almost running for neighbor. And if they can’t relate to him, that is going to harm him.”
Recent surveys show President Obama pulling into a modest lead over Romney since the Democratic Party's national convention, both nationally and in several so-called battleground states where the two candidates are waging fierce campaigns.