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Romney clarifies remarks about poor, says focus is on middle class

February 01, 2012|By Maeve Reston
(CNN )

Reporting from Eagan, Minn. — Clarifying a statement that quickly went viral on the Internet on Wednesday morning, Mitt Romney said he was concerned about poor Americans but was focused on the problems of the middle class in his quest for the White House.

On CNN on Wednesday morning after his 14-point win in Florida Tuesday night , Romney said he was “not concerned about the very poor” because they have “a safety net there” and “if it needs repair, I’ll fix it.” (Watch video below.)

“You've got to take the whole sentence, all right?” he said when reporters asked him what he meant during a chartered flight between Tampa and Minneapolis. “I've said throughout the campaign -- my focus, my concern, my energy is going to be devoted to helping middle-income people, all right?”

“We have a safety net for the poor in, and if there are holes in it, I will work to repair that,” he said.  “If there are people that are falling through the cracks, I want to fix that. Wealthy people are doing fine. But my focus in the campaign is on middle-income people. Of course I'm concerned about all Americans -- poor, wealthy, middle class -- but the focus of my effort will be on middle-income families who I think have been most hurt by the Obama economy.”

He added that the U.S. government provides “a very ample safety” for low-income Americans through Medicaid, federal housing vouchers, food stamps and the earned income tax credit. “We have a number of ways of helping the poor. . . . The area that I think is the greatest challenge that the country faces right now is not to focus our effort on how we help the poor, as much as to focus our effort on how to help the middle class in America, and get more people in the middle class, and get people out of being poor and becoming middle income.”

Romney’s comments on CNN shifted attention from his victory over former House Speaker Newt Gingrich in Tuesday’s Florida primary. “What a night, huh?” Romney said to reporters on his campaign plane Wednesday morning. “If they all go like that, I’ll feel pretty good.”

“I'd hoped we were able to get back the momentum after a loss in South Carolina,” he said. “But it was a lot more than just getting momentum. It was a huge night and I really appreciate the people of Florida for the support they gave me.”

maeve.reston@latimes.com

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