Sen. Scott Brown (R-Mass.) is among several Republican candidates distancing… (Patrick Semansky / Associated…)
WASHINGTON – Republicans are having a hard time handling the fallout from a videotape that showed Mitt Romney declaring that 47% of Americans – those who don’t pay federal income taxes – are lost to the party and not worth courting.
The firestorm over the comments has engulfed the presidential campaign and threatens to spread to House and Senate races. Anxiety over that possibility has led Republican opinion-makers to publicly scold the party’s presidential nominee. Meanwhile, at least three Republican candidates and a Republican governor have made statements distancing themselves from Romney’s comments.
“I just don’t view the world the same way he does,” said Nevada Sen. Dean Heller, who faces a tough reelection fight in November.
“Every vote in Nevada counts, every vote,” Heller told Politico on Wednesday. “And as a United States senator, my job is represent every one of those votes whether they voted for me or against me.”
New Mexico Gov. Susana Martinez, a Republican who delivered a full-throated indictment of President Obama at the GOP convention last month, also backed away from Romney’s remarks.
“We have a lot of people that are at the poverty level in New Mexico, but they count just as much as anybody else,” Martinez said at a news conference, according to local media reports. “There is a net that does allow them to be caught and taken care of, whether it be through medical services, whether it be food services, whether it be with funding for apartments, for housing.”
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Romney’s remarks were made months ago, but only recently surfaced when the liberal magazine Mother Jones published a video that showed Romney explaining his campaign strategy to a group of donors at a Florida home.
Referring to Obama, Romney told the group: “There are 47% 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 healthcare, to food, to housing, to you name it … these are people who pay no income tax.”
Romney also said that his job as a candidate “is not to worry about those people.”
“I’ll never convince them they should take personal responsibility and care for their lives,” he said.
Romney said Monday that his remarks were “not elegantly stated.” But the rest of his party seems to be having more trouble getting past the comments.
In an unusual move, Senate Republicans on Wednesday avoided taking questions after their weekly news conference, citing time constraints because of a meeting with Myanmar activist Aung San Suu Kyi.
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) excused himself early, and Sen. Roy Blunt (R-Mo.) waved the issue away after reporters trailed him in pursuit of a response.
“It could have been better said, as Gov. Romney himself said,” Blunt told reporters, according to Talking Points Memo. “But trying to get more people into the active economy should be the fundamental debate of this election. And I’m not sure it’s not good for Gov. Romney to go right ahead and pursue that discussion.”
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Even Romney’s running mate, Wisconsin Rep. Paul D. Ryan, struggled to explain the remarks. Asked Tuesday by a New Hampshire television station whether he agreed with Romney’s characterization of the election, Ryan said, “No.”
“The point we were trying to make is this: Because of the stagnant Obama economy, more and more people have become dependent on the government because they don’t have economic opportunity,” Ryan said. But, he said, Romney’s statements were “an inarticulate way of trying to make this point.”
Others have been less kind.
Wall Street Journal columnist Peggy Noonan called Romney “incompetent,” while David Brooks wrote in the New York Times that he was running a “depressingly inept presidential campaign.” William Kristol, editor of the Weekly Standard, said Romney’s comments were “stupid and arrogant.”
The scramble to disown Romney’s comments reflects a concern within the GOP that the comments could hurt not just Romney’s White House prospects but the party’s efforts to secure control of Congress as well.
Linda McMahon, who is locked in a competitive race for an open Connecticut Senate seat, wasted no time in disavowing the statements.
“I disagree with Gov. Romney’s insinuation that 47% of Americans believe they are victims who must depend on the government for their care,” McMahon said Tuesday in a statement.
Massachusetts Sen. Scott Brown, who faces a fierce challenge from Democrat Elizabeth Warren, followed soon after.
“That’s not the way I view the world,” Brown said in a statement to The Hill. “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.”
Polls show that the comments could have longstanding consequences for Romney. Thirty-six percent of voters say the comments made them less likely to vote for Romney, while 20% said they were more likely to support him and 43% said it wouldn't make a difference, according to Gallup.
INTERACTIVE: Battleground states map
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