At the same time, his campaign released a new ad saying that if Romney wins the White House, he might seek the elimination of a series of tax breaks used by millions of middle class Americans. "Mitt Romney, he's so focused on big business and tax cuts for the wealthy, it seems like his answers to middle class America are just tough luck," says a woman in the commercial.
For his part, Romney referred to videotaped comments Obama made in 1998 as evidence he favored government redistribution of wealth. As an Illinois state senator at the time, Obama said he believes in it "at least to a certain level to make sure everybody's got a shot."
Privately, some Republicans were harshly critical of Romney's most recent comments and his overall campaign to date, saying he had frittered away opportunities. They also noted that with early voting already under way in some states, the time to recover was smaller than might appear.
Linda McMahon, the Republican candidate for a Senate seat in Connecticut, was open with her criticism. "I disagree with Governor Romney's insinuation that 47% of Americans believe they are victims who must depend on the government for their care," she said in a statement posted to her website.
Sen. Scott Brown, in a tough race for re-election in heavily Democratic Massachusetts, said of Romney's comments: "That's not the way I view the world."
Still, with high-profile presidential debates and seven weeks of campaigning yet ahead, others said those concerns were overstated.
"I don't expect the negative headlines of this week will be what we're talking about a week from now," said Fergus Cullen, the former Republican state chairman in New Hampshire and a close ally of Romney. Like other Republicans, he said, "It's incumbent on the Romney campaign to make it [the election] about Obama's handling of the economy."
In recent days, Republicans have grumbled that Romney needed to sharpen his appeal to struggling middle class Americans by stating more clearly what he would do as president to help them. That effort began overnight with a new ad designed to appeal to female voters.
The new controversy blazed as opinion polls suggested that a narrow lead Obama gained nationally and in some key battleground states in the wake of the Democratic National Convention might be ebbing.
The sluggish economy and lingering high unemployment are by far the overriding issues of the election, and Romney's case for the presidency is based on his claim that his success as a businessman has left him the skills needed to create jobs in a nation where unemployment is 8.1 percent.
Obama and the Democrats have tried to counter by depicting the president's challenger as a multimillionaire who has some of his wealth invested in the Cayman Islands and elsewhere overseas, and is out of touch with the needs of middle class Americans.
In his original reaction to the video, posted by the left-leaning magazine Mother Jones, Romney told reporters Monday night that his fundraising remarks were "not elegantly stated." But he offered no apologies and did not answer directly when asked if he felt he had offended anyone.