Mitt Romney, still beaming from his dramatic victory in the Florida primary, gave ammunition to his opponents by using the phrase “I’m not concerned about the very poor” during a morning interview with CNN before flying out to Nevada, where the next Republican contest is to be held on Saturday.
The exchange between Mr. Romney and the interviewer can be viewed here.
Here is the quote in its entire context: “I’m not concerned about the very poor. We have a safety net there. If it needs repair, I’ll fix it. I’m not concerned about the very rich. They’re doing just fine. I’m concerned about the very heart of America, the 90-95 per cent of Americans who right now are struggling.”
He cited food stamps, housing benefits and Medicaid as part of the “safety net” available to help the very poor.
In context or out of context, the phrase will no doubt be seized on by Mr. Romney’s opponents, as commentators noted. PBS political analyst Jeff Greenfield tweeted: “Romney’s ‘very poor’ line. Taken out of context? Maybe; but it will trigger an avalanche of ‘what he meant to say..’ stories. Never helpful.”
The Democratic Party tweeted through its official account: “A president needs to work for all Americans. But Romney says, ‘I’m not concerned about the very poor.’”
In the CNN interview, Mr. Romney was pressed by the interviewer to clarify his remarks: “There are lots of very poor Americans who are struggling who would say, ‘That sounds odd.’”
Mr. Romney replied: “We will hear from the Democrat party, the plight of the poor. And there’s no question, it’s not good being poor. And we have a safety net to help those that are very poor. But my campaign is focused on middle-income Americans.”
Mr. Romney has been criticized by his opponents – Republicans and Democrats – for his business record as the head of investment firm Bain Capital. Supporters of Newt Gingrich have described Mr. Romney as a “corporate raider” in TV attack ads.
Mr. Romney’s estimated wealth is believed to be $250-million.
The Romney campaign has tried to present his wealth and business success and experience to make a case for how Mr. Romney will restore free enterprise and economic growth in the United States.
Mr. Romney’s opponents see his years as an investment firm high-flyer as his Achilles’ heel: at a time when so many Americans are struggling, the former Massachusetts governor seems out of touch with the plight of ordinary Americans.
Nevada, for example, has the nation’s highest unemployment and foreclosure rates in the country.
His comments are unlikely to change the outcome of Nevada’s caucuses on Saturday. Mr. Romney is the heavy favourite in a state where one in four Republican voters is Mormon. He carried the state in 2008.
But it is not the first time Mr. Romney’s comments have been pounced on by his opponents.
The now infamous ”corporations are people” exchange with an audience in Iowa last summer, or the $10,000 bet he tried to make with Governor Rick Perry to settle an argument during a live TV debate caught everyone's attention.
More recently, ahead of the New Hampshire primary in January, he told a business audience: “I like being able to fire people.”
Out of context it sounds particularly harsh. But in the context of allowing people to shop for their health insurance and fire their health insurer if they are not happy with the services, the comment means something different.
During a TV debate in South Carolina last month, when asked whether he would follow his father’s example and release 12 years of tax records – something this father did when he ran for president in the 1960s – Mr. Romney replied: ”Maybe.” His evasive answer drew boos and heckles from the audience.
Mr. Romney eventually released his tax records for 2010 and estimates for 2011.