WASHINGTON - Another day, another disaster for Mitt Romney's presidential campaign — this time over an undercover video that shows him deriding Barack Obama voters as government freeloaders and lifelong victims.
While the four-month-old remarks aren't likely to offend the like-minded Republicans already firmly in his camp, they represent just the latest in a recent string of campaign setbacks — and even conservative commentators are now suggesting Romney's White House aspirations are on serious life support.
The video, posted by the left-leaning Mother Jones magazine, was secretly shot at a May 17 fundraiser in Florida hosted by private equity guru Mark Leder, whose high-flying, hard-partying lifestyle was just one element of the PR nightmare unfolding Tuesday for Team Romney.
"Forty-seven per cent of Americans pay no income tax, so our message of low taxes doesn't connect," Romney said.
"There are 47 per cent of the people who will vote for the president no matter what ... 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 health care, to food, to housing, to you name it."
It's not his job to worry about those voters, Romney says in the video.
"I'll never convince them they should take personal responsibility and care for their lives."
As the video came back to haunt Romney, he appeared on Fox News to try to explain his remarks about the 47 per cent of Americans who don't pay income tax — most of whom because they don't make enough money.
"I do believe that we should have enough jobs and enough take-home pay such that people have the privilege of higher incomes that allow them to be paying taxes," Romney said Tuesday. "I think people would like to be paying taxes."
He added he was trying to illustrate a key difference between him and Obama.
"Frankly, we have two very different views about America," Romney said. "The president's view is one of a larger government."
Obama, meantime, in a taped appearance on "The Late Show With David Letterman," said Romney was essentially "writing off a big chunk of the country."
He added that as he campaigns for re-election, he hasn't met anyone "who doesn't believe in the American dream."
"There are not a lot of people out there who think they're victims. There are not a lot of people who think they're entitled to something. We've got some obligations to each other, and there's nothing wrong with us giving each other a helping hand so that that single mom's kid, even after all the work she's done, can afford to go to college."
In an added partisan twist to the story, it emerged Tuesday that the grandson of former president Jimmy Carter — a popular Republican whipping boy — tracked down the person who taped Romney and convinced that person to send the video to Mother Jones magazine.
James Carter IV told AP he was motivated by Romney's slurs about his grandfather's record as 39th president, particularly on foreign policy.
The reaction to the video was fast and furious, and continued unabated on Tuesday. Not surprisingly, Obama's re-election team pounced.
"It's hard to serve as president for all Americans when you've disdainfully written off half the nation," said Obama campaign manager Jim Messina.
Obama surrogate Ted Strickland, the former Democratic governor of Ohio, accused Romney of viewing anyone outside his economic class as a leech.
"This man apparently feels if you're not part of his social class or ... you don't have his economic status, that somehow you're a parasite," he said.
A Romney surrogate, on the other hand, didn't appear to throw his man much of a lifeline as he attempted turn the tables on Obama in an appearance on MSNBC.
"This is the first president in my lifetime who has decided to run a campaign on class warfare and it's Obama who has opened up the class warfare issue," said John Sununu, former New Hampshire governor.
He added bitterly: "If Jimmy Carter's grandson hadn't snuck this out, we wouldn't be having this conversation today."
Reaction from other conservatives, however, was grim.
Bill Kristol, editor of the Weekly Standard, called Romney's comments "stupid and arrogant."
David Frum, the Canadian-born conservative who's a respected Republican moderate pundit in the U.S., wrote on the Daily Beast that Romney "has just committed the worst presidential-candidate gaffe since Gerald Ford announced in 1976 that 'there is no Soviet domination of Eastern Europe.'"
David Brooks, a conservative-leaning columnist at the New York Times, said Romney's comments were the talk of "self-satisfied millionaires" and reflected a "country-club fantasy."
"It suggests that he really doesn't know much about the country he inhabits. Who are these freeloaders? Is it the Iraq war veteran who goes to the VA (Department of Veterans Affairs)? Is it the student getting a loan to go to college? Is it the retiree on Social Security or Medicare?"
The latest brouhaha came just hours after Romney campaign officials, already the subject of reports about bitter infighting, declared they would get their candidate back on track by providing more details about his policies in the weeks leading up to the Nov. 6 vote.
Romney, meantime, spent the day in California, addressing a Hispanic business audience.
And yet the video wasn't likely to win him any more friends among Latinos, either. Romney discussed some of the problems his campaign was having attracting Hispanic voters, and he made a joke about his Mexican-born father.
"Had he been born of Mexican parents, I'd have a better shot of winning this," he says.
He also said during the video that Palestinians "have no interest in peace" with Israel.
As if the content of the video wasn't bad enough for Romney, there were also sordid details on Tuesday about the man who hosted the $50,000-a-plate fundraiser for the straight-laced Mormon politician.
Dubbed a "private equity party boy" by the New York Post, Leder has donated almost $300,000 to Romney and other Republicans in recent months. He's a co-owner of the Philadelphia 76ers basketball team and his name pops up frequently in tabloid reports as he hangs out with rap icon Russell Simmons and other celebrities.
The Post reported a year ago about a party at an oceanfront Hamptons mansion rented by Leder "where guests cavorted nude in the pool and performed sex acts, scantily dressed Russians danced on platforms and men twirled lit torches to a booming techno beat."
Leder later dismissed the reports as exaggerated.