WASHINGTON (AP) — Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney is trying to steady a shaky campaign as President Barack Obama, enjoying a burst of momentum, heads to New York for a celebrity fundraiser with Beyoncé and Jay-Z and a star turn on David Letterman’s couch.
Romney is trying to contain the political fallout of an unauthorized video of him telling donors that almost half of all Americans “believe they are victims” entitled to extensive government support and adding that as a candidate for the White House, “my job is not to worry about those people.” Romney was also trying to shake stories that his campaign was in disarray and looking for a change in direction seven weeks before Election Day.
In a hastily arranged meeting with reporters late Monday, Romney said that while his comments were “not elegantly stated,” he stood by his remarks about Americans who do not pay taxes.
“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.
The former Massachusetts governor did not have public events Tuesday and planned to raise money in Salt Lake City and Dallas.
Looking to change the subject, Romney’s campaign rolled out a television ad featuring a mother and infant, aimed at cutting into Obama’s advantage with female voters.
“Your share of Obama’s debt is over $50,000 and it grows every day. Obama’s policies are making it harder on women. The poverty rate for women — the highest in 17 years,” an announcer says in the ad Romney released early Tuesday. “More women are unemployed under President Obama. More than 5.5 million women can’t find work.”
Obama, meanwhile, was set to collect almost $4 million at a $40,000-a-ticket fundraiser at a Manhattan nightclub and another at the Waldorf Astoria hotel. He also planned to reach out to less-engaged voters on CBS’ “Late Show With David Letterman.”
Obama was expected to welcome the WNBA champion Minnesota Lynx at the White House before flying to New York.
Romney faced growing complaints that his campaign fumbled opportunities at the Republicans’ August convention, 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.
“Every campaign is dysfunctional. It’s just the level that differs,” said Hogan Gidley, a Republican strategist who was a top aide to Rick Santorum’s presidential bid.
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.”
The late-afternoon release of the secretly recorded video, posted on the magazine Mother Jones’ website, did little to calm jitters as Democrats quickly criticized Romney.
“Mitt Romney’s insulting comments during a closed-door meeting with a group of wealthy donors regarding half the people in the United States show just how out of touch he really is with middle-class families,” said Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev. “The job of president is to fight for everybody, regardless of their wealth or social status.”
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.”
Some conservatives have complained for months that Romney needs to put more details behind his pledges to tame the deficit while also preserving all tax cuts and expanding military spending. Others say Romney mishandled a chance to criticize Obama’s foreign policy last week when the Republican nominee issued sharp remarks in the opening hours of fast-changing and complicated episodes of violence aimed at American diplomatic facilities in the Middle East.
Romney’s campaign responded, pledging to be more specific.
Those details weren’t expected Tuesday, however. Romney planned fundraisers in Salt Lake City and in Dallas, with former first lady Laura Bush at the Bushes’ Texas home.
The unexpected video overtook — at least for the moment — the campaigns’ planned rhetoric on China, against which the Obama’s administration launched an unfair-trade complaint on Monday, deploying it as a wedge against Romney. Obama told voters in Ohio, where the auto industry is important, that China was subsidizing exports of vehicles and auto parts — and cutting into American jobs.
Obama’s campaign released ads that sought to maximize the political upside of the complaint — and compare it to Romney’s record.
“Tough on China? Not Mitt Romney,” the ad’s announcer says. “How can Mitt Romney take on the cheaters when he’s taking their side?”
Romney dismissed the criticism, saying Obama “may think that announcing new trade cases less than two months from Election Day will distract from his record, but the American businesses and workers struggling on an uneven playing field know better.”
Romney already has been airing ads critical of Obama’s stance toward China.
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