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Mere weeks from the presidential election, Mitt Romney's campaign is reluctantly on spin control again this week. The candidate is working to manage the message following the release of surreptitiously recorded footage from a private fundraiser earlier this year in which he argued that 47 percent of Americans will vote for President Barack Obama because they are "dependent on the government” and "believe that they are victims," and further, that these people do not pay taxes.
He added that his job is “not to worry about those people.”
(CNN notes that the non-partisan Tax Policy Center estimates that for the 2011 tax year, 46 percent of households did indeed end up owing nothing in federal income taxes, but that when payroll taxes were accounted for, the number of households that could be deemed as “non-paying” drops to an estimated 18 percent.)
The videos were posted Monday afternoon on the Huffington Post and Mother Jones websites, causing an immediate flurry of outraged responses from representatives from left, right and center -- not to mention the traditional media and the Twittersphere.
Right away, the Obama team jumped all over the candidate for his remarks, saying he had "disdainfully written off half the nation."
Even conservatives distanced themselves from Romney’s comments, including famed commentator Bill Kristol who called them “arrogant and stupid." In a blog post on The Weekly Standard, he wrote, “It's worth recalling that a good chunk of the 47 percent who don't pay income taxes are Romney supporters… So Romney seems to have contempt not just for the Democrats who oppose him, but for tens of millions who intend to vote for him."
Romney held a press conference Monday night to defend his comments, characterizing them as inelegant and “off the cuff,” and saying he was simply trying to call out the difference between the two campaigns.
He described his approach this way: “At a fundraiser you have people say, 'Governor, how are you going to win this?' And so I respond 'Well, the president has his group, I have my group. I want to keep my team strong and motivated and I want to get those people in the middle.' That's something which fund-raising people who are parting with their monies are very interested in.”
Even amid wide-ranging criticism of the candidate for his remarks, some conservatives indeed see them as a chance for the campaign to bring the issues of tax reform and entitlements to the foreground for debate.
For instance, the National Review suggested that Romney’s comments made him sound like a “real conservative” and that he should “own” the sentiment.
The Heritage Foundation’s Brian Darling said that Romney’s comments present him with the chance to show voters the clear choice they face in the election. “I think this is an education opportunity to talk about the fact that a high percentage are taking out of the system and are not paying in,” he told The Hill.
Of course, the Romney campaign would rather avoid this type of controversy altogether. But, despite the outrage, it doesn’t necessarily spell the end for Romney. Many are comparing his “47 percent” comments to remarks previously made by then-candidate Obama, when he referred to a set of small-town Americans who “cling to guns and religion.”
Alesandra Dubin is a Los Angeles-based writer and iVillage’s Chief Election News Blogger. Follow her on Twitter: @alicedubin.