WASHINGTON — Republican White House nominee Mitt Romney faced the task of getting his campaign back on track Tuesday after a hidden camera caught him off guard, while President Barack Obama was kicking back in New York on David Letterman’s couch and at a fundraiser with Beyoncé and Jay-Z.
Romney plans no apology for stating that nearly half of Americans “believe that they are victims.” Instead, he is expected to respond to questions about the statement by reinforcing the message he delivered at a hastily called news conference Monday night, in which he said Obama favors “a government-centered society” with people dependent on public support.
Romney advisers concede the video came at a bad time — seven weeks before Election Day and with early voting beginning in two dozen states by this weekend. They acknowledge the remarks may dominate news coverage for days but dispute the notion that Romney’s comments could fundamentally change the election.
The unscripted moment was reminiscent of the 2008 campaign, when Obama was caught telling the wealthy wing of his party at a private fundraiser in San Francisco that some residents of depressed rural areas get bitter and “cling to guns or religion or antipathy to people who aren’t like them.”
In the Romney video, recorded at a Florida fundraiser in May, the candidate says 47 percent of Americans don’t pay taxes and believe they are entitled to extensive government support. “My job is not to worry about those people,” he said.
After the video posted late Monday afternoon on Mother Jones magazine’s website, Romney refused to take them back. He told reporters that while his comments were “not elegantly stated,” he stood by his remarks.
“Those who are reliant on government are not as attracted to my message of slimming down the size of government,” Romney said in Costa Mesa, Calif., doubling down on his statement.
Democrats were quick to take advantage of the fallout from the video that reinforced accusations that Romney, born into privilege, cannot understand the struggles many Americans face. A pro-Obama super political action committee quickly pushed up the air date for a new television advertisement in response.
The ad, from Priorities USA Action, was previously shown online and never mentions the Romney video because it was produced before it became public. But the super PAC says it believes the ad’s message serves as a counter to the Republican nominee’s words and bought time to begin airing it as early as Tuesday on stations in Colorado, Florida, Iowa, Ohio, Virginia and Wisconsin.
“Doesn’t Mitt Romney understand we can’t rebuild America by tearing down the middle class?” the narrator says. The group also is likely to start running new ads using Romney’s words from the fundraising video.
Obama was told about the video Monday afternoon by staff traveling with him on a campaign trip to Ohio. The president has not publicly commented on the video, but could do so Tuesday when he tapes an interview with David Letterman and delivers remarks at a fundraiser at the Waldorf Astoria hotel. After that, Obama was set to collect nearly $4 million at a $40,000-a-ticket fundraiser at a Manhattan nightclub with husband and wife musicians Jay-Z and Beyonce.
Romney had no public appearances scheduled Tuesday and planned to raise money in Salt Lake City and in Dallas with former first lady Laura Bush at the Bushes’ Texas home.
Looking to change the subject, Romney’s campaign rolled out a new television ad featuring a mother and infant, aimed at cutting into Obama’s advantage with female voters. It argued that Obama’s economic policies would make women’s lives harder.
Romney faced growing complaints that his campaign fumbled opportunities at the Republican convention in August on foreign unrest and, most crucially, on the U.S. economy, which is seen as Obama’s weakest point. GOP activists and consultants have fretted as opinion polls suggest Obama has opened a small lead over Romney since the parties’ late-summer conventions.
The unexpected video, recorded in May and released Monday, sent Romney’s aides scrambling yet again.
Romney surrogate Donald Trump said: “I think he has to not apologize. … What he said is probably what he thinks.”
“The problem they have is, they are not being tough enough,” Trump said in a telephone interview Tuesday on NBC’s Today show. “I’m not saying down and dirty, but that’s exactly what President Obama is doing with them. They have to get tougher or they’re going to lose this campaign.”
Romney refused to take back his remarks and senior adviser Bay Buchanan told CNN on Tuesday that, “as a candidate he can’t worry about those he can’t get.”
The Obama campaign e-mailed donors asking for contributions in response.
“The man who spoke these words — who demonstrates such disgust and disdain for half of our fellow Americans — is the other side’s choice for president of the United States,” wrote Obama campaign manager Jim Messina. “He wants to lead our country. If we don’t come through for President Obama right now, this will be the guy making big decisions that affect us and our families every single day.”
In the video, Romney said 47 percent of Americans pay no income tax.
About 46 percent of Americans owed no federal income tax in 2011, although many of them paid other forms of taxes. More than 16 million elderly Americans avoid federal income taxes solely because of tax breaks that apply only to seniors, according to the nonpartisan Tax Policy Center.
In the clip released by Mother Jones, Romney also is asked about the “Palestinian problem.” He gives a rambling response, then says “the Palestinians have no interest whatsoever in establishing peace” and “the pathway to peace is almost unthinkable to accomplish.”
— Associated Press