WASHINGTON – Already scrambling to steady a struggling campaign, Republican Mitt Romney confronted a new headache Monday after a video surfaced showing him telling wealthy 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."
President Barack Obama's campaign quickly seized on the video, obtained by the magazine Mother Jones and made public on a day that Romney's campaign conceded it needed a change in campaign strategy to gain momentum in the presidential race.
"There are 47 percent of the people who will vote for the president no matter what," Romney is shown saying in a video published by the magazine. "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 said his role "is not to worry about those people. I'll never convince them they should take personal responsibility and care for their lives."
Romney's campaign did not immediately respond to requests for comment about the video.
About 46 percent of Americans owed no federal income tax in 2011, although many of them paid other forms of taxes. Of the 38 million individuals or couples who avoided income taxes through breaks or "tax expenditures," 44 percent were elderly, according to the nonpartisan Tax Policy Center.
Obama's campaign immediately criticized Romney, calling the statement "shocking."
"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.
The remarks came at a closed-door fundraiser that Mother Jones reported occurred after Romney had clinched the GOP nomination. To protect the identity of the person who provided the remarks, Mother Jones blurred out the video and did not provide the date or location of the fundraiser. Romney formally clinched the nomination May 29 and formally accepted it last month at the Republican convention in Tampa.
Many of the Americans who owe no income tax are reprieved because basic exemptions — such as the "standard deduction" — took their taxable income below the cutoff levels. The other half rely mainly on a variety of tax breaks, such as the credit that helps offset child care costs.
These Americans range from the very poor to solidly middle-class families with jobs, homes, cars and vacations. The Tax Policy Center says "relatively few nontaxable households" have incomes exceeding $100,000; families that make between $50,000 and $100,000 often owe no income tax because of breaks for their kids and for education.
Americans who pay no federal income tax still often pay an array of other taxes. They include payroll taxes for Social Security and Medicare, sales taxes, property taxes and state and local taxes.
Obama faced a similar moment in the 2008 campaign, when he told donors that many Americans who are angry about their struggles "cling to their guns or religion."
Romney's running mate, Wisconsin Rep. Paul Ryan, made reference to that remark Monday at a campaign event in Des Moines, Iowa.
"I remember that one time when he was talking to a bunch of donors in San Francisco and he said people like us, people from the Midwest like to cling to their guns and religion," Ryan said.
He went on: "And I've got to tell you this Catholic deer hunter is guilty as charged and proud to say so. That's just weird. Who says things like that? That's just strange."