President Barack Obama has criticised Mitt Romney for "writing off a big chunk of the country" after a secretly made video showed the Republican presidential nominee dismissing "47 per cent" of Obama's supporters as victims who are dependent on the government.
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"One of the things I've learned as president is you represent the entire country," Obama said on CBS's Late Show with David Letterman on Tuesday. "My expectation is if you want to be president, you've got to work for everybody, not just for some," he said to applause from the studio audience.
Romney, a former governor of Massachusetts and private equity executive, was secretly filmed making the remarks at a $50,000-per-plate fundraiser in Florida in May.
The left-leaning magazine Mother Jones acquired the video and published it on its website on Monday, prompting a quick response from Romney, who said he could have been more "elegant".
"There are 47 per cent of the people who will vote for the president [Obama] no matter what ... there are 47 per cent who are with him, who are dependent upon government, who believe that they are victims, who believe 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," Romney said at the fundraiser.
Obama, though he made a somewhat similar gaffe four years ago, saying small-town Americans without jobs tend to cling to "guns and religion", he tried to reach out to people who did not support him after his victory in 2008.
"When I won in 2008, 47 per cent of people who voted, voted for John McCain. They didn't vote for me," Obama said. "And what I said on election night was, even though you didn't vote for me, I hear your voices and I'm going to work as hard as I can to be your president."
Middle East peace 'unthinkable'
In another part of the video published by Mother Jones, Romney said that Palestinians "have no interest whatsoever" in peace with Israel, seemingly dismissing the two-state solution, a peace and border plan long supported by the US and other negotiators.
"The Palestinians have no interest whatsoever in establishing peace, and ... the pathway to peace is almost unthinkable to accomplish," Romney said. "I look at the Palestinians not wanting to see peace anyway, for political purposes, committed to the destruction and elimination of Israel, and these thorny issues, and I say: There's just no way."
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"The idea of pushing on the Israelis to give something up to get the Palestinians to act is the worst idea in the world,'' Romney said, according to the magazine. Mother Jones did not provide video of that comment.
The comments drew anger from Palestinian peace negotiator Saeb Erakat, who called them "absolutely unacceptable," and provided the White House with fresh ammunition to paint the Republican challenger as unpresidential.
Romney also criticised Obama's foreign policy approach.
"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] Chávez 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 says. "And it's an extraordinarily naive perception."
'Speaking off the cuff'
At a hastily called news conference late on Monday night, Romney did not dispute the clip but conceded the comments were not "elegantly stated'' and that they were spoken "off the cuff".
"It's not elegantly stated. Let me put it that way," Romney said, in California. "I'm sure I could state it more clearly and in a more effective way than I did in a setting like that."
Al Jazeera's Alan Fisher, reporting from Washington, DC, said that the videos showed that "Mitt Romney is willing to say one thing to a private audience and another thing in public."
"He said when he was in Israel in July that he believed in a two-state solution, and here he is, recorded, just a month or so before, at a private fundraising even in Florida, saying there was no chance of a two-state solution, no chance of peace in the Middle East," said Fisher.
|President Obama told host David Letterman Romney was wrong to describe 47 per cent of US as 'victims' [AFP]
Our correspondent also said that answering for his comments on the videos would prevent Romney from focusing on his campaign platform of repairing the US economy during upcoming appearances.
"He's off message, and that could last three or four dates," said Fisher.
After first concealing the date and location of the video to protect their source, Mother Jones said they had been released from their agreement and wrote that the video was filmed at the home of controversial private equity manager Marc Leder in Boca Raton, Florida.
The Romney campaign has not disputed the authenticity of the video released on Monday.
The videos are the latest setback for a campaign struggling with low poll numbers and reports of infighting ahead of the November election.
It added to Romney's problems as he tried on Monday to retool his campaign message with more specifics on policies after reports of internal disarray.
He has slipped in polls in the last two weeks as the selection of running mate Paul Ryan and the Republican National
Convention failed to make much of a mark with voters.
A Reuters/Ipsos survey on Monday, taken over the previous four days, showed Romney - often painted by rivals as an out-of-touch elitist - trailing Obama by five percentage points.
Source: Al Jazeera and agencies