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Romney doesn't back away from message caught on secret tape

By the CNN Wire Staff
updated 11:07 AM EDT, Wed September 19, 2012
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • NEW: Romney not backing away from controversial comments
  • NEW: Obama says in interview that the president represents entire country
  • NEW: Republicans in key Senate races seek to distance themselves from Romney comments
  • NEW: Tracking poll shows Obama bounce fading overall; Other poll shows Obama still leads in Virginia

Washington (CNN) -- Mitt Romney on Tuesday didn't back away from remarks he made in a secretly recorded video casting supporters of President Barack Obama as dependent on welfare, and instead said the comments that generated more problems for him in a tight race were an honest reflection of his campaign's message.

"This is a message I'm carrying day and day out and will carry over the coming months," Romney said on Fox News. "This is a decision about the course of America, where we're going to head. We've seen the president's policies play out over the last four years."

Romney cited an opposition research video that Republicans began circulating on Tuesday afternoon that shows Obama speaking at Loyola University in 1998 about making government more effective.

"I think the trick is how do we structure government systems that pool resources and hence facilitate some redistribution, because I actually believe in redistribution, at least at a certain level, to make sure that everybody's got a shot," Obama is heard saying.

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In his interview Tuesday, Romney framed Obama's remarks as an endorsement of redistributing private wealth, rather than on making sure government agencies were well supported.

"The president's view is one of larger government," Romney said. "There's a tape that came out today where the president's saying he likes redistribution. I disagree. I think a society based upon a government centered nation where government plays a larger and larger role, redistributes money, that's the wrong course for America, that will not build a stronger America, or help people out of poverty."

Republicans have used the issue against Obama in the past.

Romney's charged comments at a May fund-raising event were recorded with a hidden camera. The video shows him telling his donors that nearly half of Americans back Obama because they rely on government support.

"There are 47 percent of the people who will vote for the president no matter what," Romney says in one clip first posted on Monday afternoon. "There are 47 percent who are with him, who are dependent on government, who believe that, that they are victims, who believe that government has the responsibility to care for them. Who believe that they are entitled to health care, to food, to housing."

The fund-raiser video was the latest in what has been a shaky stretch for the Romney campaign following last month's political conventions and as the candidates hurtle toward three presidential debates next month.

How candidates are preparing for the debates

Romney's remarks generated reaction from both sides of the political spectrum.

The president suggested that Romney was "writing off a big chunk of the country."

In an interview taped for the "Late Show with David Letterman" in New York, Obama said he didn't know what Romney was referring to in the video but was quick to add, "One of the things I learned as president is you represent the entire country. If you want to be president, you have to work for everyone."

Obama was caught in a secret camera moment in 2008, when he was recorded at a private fund-raiser saying that some voters "cling to their guns and religion." At the time, Republicans quickly pounced on the comment and now Romney's running mate, Congressman Paul Ryan, uses the quote against the president on the campaign trail.

Conservative commentator William Kristol wrote in his Weekly Standard column Tuesday that Romney's comments insulted some of his own supporters -- such as senior citizens on Medicare.

However, other conservatives supported Romney for highlighting what they call the increasing dependency of American society on government programs.

The latest flap also bled into other races, including two contests viewed as crucial for Republican hopes of taking control of the Senate.

Sen. Scott Brown of Massachusetts and challenger Linda McMahon in Connecticut sought to distance themselves from Romney's remarks.

"As someone who grew up in tough circumstances, I know that being on public assistance is not a spot that anyone wants to be in. Too many people today who want to work are being forced into public assistance for lack of jobs," Brown said.

CNN Fact Check: Who really receives government assistance?

But it wasn't an entire lost day for Romney.

The latest Gallup daily tracking poll showed the post-convention bounce for Obama fading.

The survey's seven-day rolling average shows 47% of registered voters supporting Obama and 46% supporting Romney, returning the race to narrow, pre-convention margins.

A CNN poll taken the week after the Democratic National Convention earlier this month showed Obama with a six point advantage.

Democrats pounce on Romney comments

A CNN-ORC poll conducted after the Democratic convention showed Obama with a 52%-46% lead over Romney after the two were tied at 48% in the same poll the previous week. And a Washington Post poll released Tuesday showed Obama continuing to lead Romney in Virginia, one of the vital battleground states of 2012.

CNN's Polling Center

Another clip from the event, posted later Monday, shows Romney questioning the prospect of ever reaching peace between Israelis and Palestinians.

"I'm torn by two perspectives in this regard," Romney is shown saying. "One is the one which I've had for some time, which is that the Palestinians have no interest whatsoever in establishing peace, and that the pathway to peace is almost unthinkable to accomplish."

Romney goes on to describe the obstacles he sees toward developing a so-called "two-state solution" that would establish an independent Palestinian state alongside Israel. He cites problems of geography, including the proximity to Tel Aviv of a potential border between the two states, as preventing any real progression toward the two states.

"These are problems - these are very hard to solve, all right?" Romney says on the tape. "And I look at the Palestinians not wanting to see peace anyway, for political purposes, committed to the destruction and elimination of Israel, and these thorny issues, and I say, 'There's just no way.'"

In public, Romney has previously declared support for the two-state solution.

CNNMoney's Jeanne Sahadi and CNN's Tom Cohen, Ashley Killough, Jim Acosta, Kevin Liptak and Rachel Streitfeld contributed to this report.

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