COSTA MESA, Calif. -- Mitt Romney held a hastily arranged press conference here to engage in damage control hours after a video surfaced that showed him at a private May fundraiser describing 47 percent of the country as "dependent upon the government."
The GOP nominee for president defended his remarks -- first printed in the liberal magazine Mother Jones -- while conceding they were not "elegantly stated."
"I am sure I can state it more clearly and effectively than I did in a setting like that," he told reporters assembled quickly at the Segerstrom Center for the Arts before attending a fundraiser.
Romney said the video didn't fully capture his views or his entire comments about personal responsibility and the role of government in society.
"I am talking about a political process of drawing people in my campaign. ... My campaign is about helping people take more responsibility," Romney said.
"This is ultimately a question about the direction of the country. Do you believe in a government-centered society that provides more and more benefits? Or do you believe instead in a free-enterprise society where people are able to pursue their dreams?"
Romney was responding to the furor surrounding the release of a surreptitiously taped video of him speaking at a closed-door, $50,000-a-person fundraiser describing 47 percent of voters as non-taxpayers so dependent on government services that they're bound to vote for President Barack Obama in November.
"There are 47 percent 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 appears to be saying in the video.
Mother Jones posted the video on its website Monday afternoon and, while vouching for the authenticity, initially refused to name the location of the event or provide a date when it occurred, saying only that it was after Romney secured the GOP nomination.
In an appearance Monday night on "The Rachel Maddow Show," David Corn, author of the Mother Jones story, revealed that the video was recorded on May 17 at a fundraiser at the Boca Raton, Fla., home of investment banker Marc Leder.
Romney had spoken at a reception before the dinner where a reporter was permitted inside. At the time, his campaign indicated the priciest tickets at $50,000 included dinner -- into which the press wasn't allowed.
The video has been altered to blur the objects surrounding Romney and appears to be from a camera located in the back of the room, near a waiters' table.
In the video, Romney asserted that 47 percent of people pay no income tax.
"So our message of low taxes doesn't connect," he said.
Romney went on to explain that he isn't trying to court those voters.
"My job is not to worry about those people," Romney said. "I'll never convince them they should take personal responsibility and care for their lives."
Earlier on Monday, Romney's campaign pushed back on the candidate's remarks in the video, although it did not directly address the video or attempt to refute the recording.
"Mitt Romney wants to help all Americans struggling in the Obama economy," Romney communications director Gail Gitcho said in a statement. "As the governor has made clear all year, he is concerned about the growing number of people who are dependent on the federal government, including the record number of people who are on food stamps, nearly one in six Americans in poverty, and the 23 million Americans who are struggling to find work."
The video quickly drew rebuke from Obama's campaign, which called it "shocking" that he would describe half of the nation's residents in such unflattering terms.
"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,' entitled to handouts, and are unwilling to take 'personal responsibility' for their lives. It's hard to serve as president for all Americans when you've disdainfully written off half the nation," Obama campaign manager Jim Messina said in a statement.
In the video, Romney also explained that his political consultants are "extraordinarily experienced, highly successful" operatives.
Infighting in his campaign came to light this week as disagreements about Romney's convention speech and advertising direction bubbled to the surface following the opening of a slight lead for Obama in the polls.
"A couple of people in particular who have done races around the world. I didn't realize it," Romney said. "These guys in the U.S. -- the Karl Rove equivalents -- they do races all over the world: in Armenia, in Africa, in Israel. I mean, they work for Bibi Netanyahu in his race. So they do these races and they see which ads work, and which processes work best, and we have ideas about what we do over the course of the campaign. I'd tell them to you, but I'd have to shoot you."
Romney, who is friends with Netanyahu, met with the Israeli prime minister when he was on a three-nation European tour in July.
To his fundraising guests, Romney also made a joke about his birthplace after describing that his father was born in Mexico, where his dad's American parents were living at the time.
"Had he been born of Mexican parents, I'd have a better shot of winning this," Romney said in the video.
Romney also conceded that Obama's line of attack, launching a series of ads critical of the GOP nominee's business record, could be successful.
"What he's going to do, by the way, is try and vilify me as someone who's been successful, or who's, you know, closed businesses or laid people off and is an evil bad guy," Romney said. "And that may work."
Romney's campaign began letting reporters into his fundraisers in early May, but members of the press aren't allowed to watch unless he has "prepared remarks." Reporters are generally barred from question-and-answer sessions such as the one shown in the video.
Romney fundraisers normally include three parts: those who pay $2,500 are admitted to a reception that reporters are allowed to attend. Those who give more, often $25,000, are allowed to have their photo taken with Romney before the event.
At most evening fundraisers, those who donate $50,000 are allowed to attend a dinner where Romney takes questions, often held at the home of a supporter separate from the reception. Reporters are not permitted to watch that portion of fundraisers.
Based on the description of the video posted by Mother Jones, that is where Romney appears to be speaking to guests at an evening fundraiser.
Romney has been criticized for failing to connect with middle-class voters and for being out of touch because of his wealth.
His campaign attempted to tamp down some of that criticism during the GOP convention, where his wife, Ann, told a prime-time audience that while the couple had not struggled financially, they understood what it was like to struggle.
According to Mother Jones, Romney was asked in the video about why he was not attacking Obama more aggressively. Romney explained that his strategy was designed to win over the independents who voted for Obama in 2008, many of whom are now reluctant to concede Obama is a failure.
"And because they voted for him, they don't want to be told that they were wrong, that he's a bad guy, that he did bad things, that he's corrupt," Romney said in the video. "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 at most events, he's talking to supporters, but in trying to reach out to undecided voters, he has to explain that Obama is a "disappointment."
"These are the kinds of things that I can say to that audience that they nod their head and say, 'Yeah, I think you're right,'" Romney said in the video.
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