* Republican tries to turn missteps to advantage
* Trails Obama by 5 points in Reuters/Ipsos poll
* Republicans fear candidate may not recover
By Steve Holland
ATLANTA, Sept 19 Mitt Romney said on Wednesday
he would do a better job of helping the poor than President
Barack Obama as the Republican candidate tried to recover from
his disparaging remarks about the half of the country that gets
Romney has sought to make the Nov. 6 election a referendum
on Obama's economic stewardship, but the spotlight over the past
week has been fixed firmly on his own missteps. A secretly
recorded video that surfaced on Monday showed him writing off
supporters of Obama as welfare recipients with no sense of
Some 43 percent of registered voters thought less of Romney
after seeing the video, according to a Reuters/Ipsos poll, while
a mostly Republican 26 percent viewed him more favorably.
Independent voters were more likely to say the video lowered
their opinion of Romney.
Romney hopes to recover by framing the presidential election
as a choice between big government and economic growth. At an
Atlanta fundraiser, Romney said he wanted to spur job creation
by encouraging private enterprise.
"The question in this campaign is not who cares about the
poor and the middle class. I do, he does," Romney said, jabbing
the podium with his index finger and his voice rising with
"The question is who can help the poor and the middle class.
I can, he can't and he's proven it in four years," he said.
Romney's campaign argues that Obama has presided over a
stagnant economy, forcing more Americans to rely on food stamps
and other government assistance.
The video, recorded in May at a luxurious Florida home,
shows Romney telling wealthy campaign donors that 47 percent of
Americans would back Obama no matter what. "I'll never convince
them they should take personal responsibility and care for their
lives," he says.
The remarks fed into a perception that multimillionaire
Romney has battled throughout the campaign: that he is
insensitive to the struggles of less-wealthy Americans. They
drew condemnation from Democrats and an array of Republicans,
including congressional candidates and conservative columnists.
In an apparent attempt to deflect attention from the video,
Republicans are pointing to a 1998 recording that surfaced this
week of Obama discussing his belief in "a certain level" of
"Mitt Romney and I are not running to redistribute the
wealth. Mitt Romney and I are running to help Americans create
wealth," Romney's vice presidential running mate, Paul Ryan,
said at a campaign event in Danville, Virginia.
Romney had hoped to spend the week fleshing out his plan to
bolster the economy, until the video went viral on Monday and
pushed the campaign into damage-control mode. It came on the
heels of a Politico report about dysfunction in his campaign and
a statement on strife in the Middle East that was widely
criticized as unstatesmanlike.
Republicans worry that their presidential candidate may not
be able to recover in the seven weeks before the election.
"There is a broad and growing feeling now, among
Republicans, that this thing is slipping out of Romney's hands,"
Wall Street Journal editorial writer Peggy Noonan wrote in a
blog post. "It's time to admit the Romney campaign is an
Some Republicans worry that Romney may compromise their
party's ability to win control of the Senate and hold on to the
House of Representatives. Nevada Senator Dean Heller and New
Mexico Governor Susana Martinez joined a growing chorus of
Republican candidates or officeholders who have repudiated the
A Reuters/Ipsos daily tracking poll showed Obama leading
Romney 48 percent to 43 percent among likely voters. Among all
registered voters, Obama led 49 percent to 38 percent.
Most other polls have yet to reflect fallout from Romney's
comments, but they show that Romney already trailed Obama
before the liberal magazine Mother Jones released the video this
A Pew Research Center poll found that Obama was in a
stronger position at this point in the race than any
presidential candidate since 1996. Early voting is already under
way in North Carolina and will begin in other states in coming
Romney already faces a more difficult path to victory as he
can count on fewer sure wins than Obama among the 51 state
contests that determine the outcome of the election. Across the
handful of states that remain competitive, Obama holds an
advantage of 48 percent to 46 percent, according to a USA
In the video, Romney gave voice to a conservative
preoccupation that the expansion of income-tax breaks and the
growing reach of government benefit programs risk dividing the
country into "makers" and "takers."
Romney lumped all Obama supporters into the latter group.
Romney was referring to the 46 percent of U.S. households
that paid no income taxes last year and the 49 percent that
received some form of government benefit, from housing
assistance to Social Security pensions. Those two groups include
many Republican voters whose support Romney will need to win the
Romney's father received welfare benefits as a child when
his family was driven out of Mexico, according to a television
interview with his mother that recently surfaced online.