Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney dismissed a large swathe of Americans - supporters of President Barack Obama, he said - as people who live off government handouts and do not "care for their lives" in a hidden camera video from May that only now has become public.
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The video, taken secretly at a fundraising event for Romney in Florida, was the latest setback for a campaign struggling with low poll numbers and reports of infighting.
"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," Romney said in the video.
At a hastily called news conference late on Monday night, Romney 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."
The video was posted on Monday on left-leaning Mother Jones magazine's website.
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, on May 17.
Romney trails Obama
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.
"There are 47 per cent who are with [Obama], who are dependent upon government, who believe that they are victims, who believe the government has a responsibility to care for them"
- Mitt Romney, US Republican presidential candidate
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.
In the new video, Romney said he did not need to concern himself with Obama supporters.
"My job is not to worry about those people. I'll never convince them they should take personal responsibility and care for their lives. What I have to do is convince the five to 10 per cent in the centre that are independents," he said to potential donors.
Ryan Grim, the Washington, DC bureau chief for the Huffington Post, told Al Jazeera that Romney appeared to view the electorate in an "Ayn Rand-ian" sense as divided between "moochers" and "producers".
"It's just an unbelievable thing for a presidential candidate to say," Grim said. "His entire strategy has been to not alienate Obama voters."
The tape brought back memories of controversial remarks that then-candidate Obama made at a fundraiser during his 2008 campaign when he said that small-town voters who had lost jobs "cling to guns or religion".
On Monday, the Obama campaign tried to take advantage of Romney's comments.
"It's shocking that a candidate for president of the United States would go behind closed doors and declare to a group of wealthy donors that half the American people view themselves as 'victims'," Jim Messina, Obama's campaign manager, said in a statement.
"It's hard to serve as president for all Americans when you've disdainfully written off half the nation," he said.
Romney's campaign team said the Republican was concerned about Americans who were poor and unemployed.
"Mitt Romney wants to help all Americans struggling in the Obama economy," Gail Gitcho, Romney's campaign communications director, said in a statement issued in response to a request for comment.
Romney yet to release more tax returns
In the video, Romney, the former Massachusetts governor and private-equity executive, accused Obama supporters of paying no income taxes.
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"These are people who pay no income tax," he said. "Forty-seven per cent of Americans pay no income tax."
Romney himself has been criticised for not releasing more than two years' worth of tax returns. Republican National Committee Chairman Reince Priebus jumped to Romney's defence.
"I think that we are entering into a dependency society in this country, that if we don't break that up, I think that's going to be very hard for us to compete in the world," he told CNN. "I don't think the candidate's off message at all."
Romney also discussed with donors his strategy for appealing to undecided or independent voters by stressing disappointment with Obama's policies.
"Those people that we have to get, they want to believe they did the right thing, but he just wasn't up to the task. They love the phrase that he's 'Over his head'," Romney said in the video.
Source: Al Jazeera and agencies