Romney’s Comments on ‘Very Poor’ Anger Left, Concern Right

BY Christina Bellantoni and Terence Burlij  February 2, 2012 at 9:33 AM EDT

Mitt Romney; photo by Ethan Miller/Getty Images

Mitt Romney speaks at a campaign rally Wednesday in Las Vegas. Photo by Ethan Miller/Getty Images.

The Morning Line

It’s Groundhog Day, and Punxsutawney Phil has predicted six more weeks of winter. Could that forecast apply to both the weather and Mitt Romney’s political fortunes?

During his Florida victory lap on the morning shows Wednesday, the former Massachusetts governor got himself into a bit of trouble talking about how his campaign was focused on middle-income Americans.

“I’m not concerned about the very poor. We have a safety net there. If it needs repair, I will fix it,” Romney said. “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 percent of Americans who right now are struggling,” he added.


Democrats and others on the left immediately seized on the first line, and in some cases pulled it out of context, in an effort to further the narrative that Romney is out of touch with the struggles of average Americans. For instance, the Huffington Post banner linking to the story had a giant headline that read, “Clueless.” [And you can bet that the clip of Romney on CNN likely went on the reel being compiled in Chicago that includes statements he's made about being unemployed, worrying about getting a pink slip and being able to fire people who provide bad service.]

But even taken in context, Romney’s wording irked some on the right. Sen. Jim DeMint, R-S.C., a favorite among Tea Party supporters, indicated he wasn’t thrilled with Romney’s ill-phrased explanation.

DeMint told Roll Call’s David Drucker that he knows Romney cares about the poor, offering this:

We do worry about the poor when they’re trapped in government dependency programs and the education system’s not producing the skills [and] character for them to succeed, and I think it is an important thing for him to backtrack on that. I don’t think anyone thinks he doesn’t care about the poor, but I think he’s trying to say they’re taken care of right now with these programs. Those are the programs that are hurting, not just the poor, but our country. We need to address it at every level.

The Wall Street Journal’s editorial page also waded into the matter Thursday with a piece titled “What Mitt Really Meant,” offering to “decode” Romney’s latest comment and warning, “This may become a long-running interpretative series.”

Mr. Romney’s failures to communicate are common among businessmen and other normal people who have the right instincts but haven’t spent their lives thinking about politics. He also recently ran into trouble when he said he liked firing people, when he was really talking about the discipline of market competition.

Still, his business now is politics, and as the Republican front-runner he has an obligation to explain how conservative principles and policies can address America’s current problems.

For his part, Newt Gingrich took advantage of Romney’s verbal stumble as he attempts to rebound from his 14-point loss in Florida. “I am fed up with politicians in either party dividing Americans against each other,” the former House speaker told supporters in Reno, Nev., Wednesday afternoon. “I am running to be the president of all the American people, and I am concerned about all of the American people.”

That’s another line the Obama folks will probably have stored away for a later date, should Romney claim the nomination.

BIG SPENDERS

On Wednesday’s NewsHour, Gwen Ifill talked with John Dunbar of the Center for Public Integrity and Eliza Newlin Carney about the surprises — and big numbers — that came out of the Federal Election Commission disclosures filed earlier this week. Watch their discussion here.

Dunbar offered some context in his write-up of the data:

To give a little perspective, an individual can give a maximum of $2,500 to a candidate for the primary. Of the roughly 2,900 donors to all super PACs so far in the 2012 election cycle, the average donation was about $33,500.

It would take about 39,250 people giving the maximum donation to reach the total raised by super PACs — that’s about 13 contributors per one super PAC donor.

You can read Carney’s piece on Democratic efforts on the Hill to combat the spending here, and Dunbar’s iWatch story is here.

The New York Times’ Nicholas Confessore and Michael Luo write Thursday about how many of the donations remain shrouded in secrecy: “[M]uch of the money raised by the leading Republican and Democratic independent groups went into affiliated nonprofit organizations that are more restricted in how they can spend the money but do not have to disclose their donors.”

Talking Points Memo crafted a chart showing the percentage of large donations going to super PACs.

The Boston Globe finds that Bain Capital alumni are among the big Romney campaign and super PAC contributors.

RON PAUL’S REVOLUTION

Amy Gardner has a front-page Washington Post story on Romney and Texas Rep. Ron Paul’s “curious connection” and “strategic partnership.”

Gardner writes that Paul wants a presence at the convention. From her story:

Romney’s aides are “quietly in touch with Ron Paul,” according to a Republican adviser who is in contact with the Romney campaign and spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss its internal thinking. The two campaigns have coordinated on minor things, the adviser said — even small details, such as staggering the timing of each candidate’s appearance on television the night of the New Hampshire primary for maximum effect.

The New York Times’ Richard A. Oppel Jr. delves into Paul’s strengthened campaign in Nevada ahead of Saturday’s caucuses.

From his story:

The turnabout showcases Mr. Paul’s long-term goal of changing the party from within, and highlights how, whether he wins or loses in Saturday’s caucuses, Mr. Paul is likely to be a force to be reckoned with should there be a fractured nominating fight that drags on throughout the spring. Efforts to work within the party leadership have also been eagerly embraced by his son Senator Rand Paul of Kentucky, whom many Paul supporters see as the eventual heir to his legacy.

Paul has been advertising in the Silver State for more than a month, but Romney remains favored for the weekend contest. Romney won Nevada in 2008 with 51 percent of the vote.

2012 LINE ITEMS

  • Donald Trump will endorse Gingrich in Las Vegas on Thursday.

  • In a press release, Rep. Michele Bachmann, R-Minn., denied reports she has been negotiating with Romney’s team about an endorsement and called on the Boston Globe to retract its story (which the Morning Line linked to Wednesday) that suggested something was in the works.

  • The New York Times writes about how Republicans have seized on the Keystone pipeline issue for the 2012 campaign.

  • SEIU and Priorities USA Action are running two anti-Romney, Spanish-language radio ads in Nevada. Listen to them here and here.

  • First lady Michelle Obama attended a fundraiser Wednesday night in West Los Angeles that included Samuel L. Jackson, LaTanya Richardson Jackson, Cookie Johnson, Melanie Griffith, Eva Longoria, Angela Bassett, Courtney B. Vance, Viola Davis, Octavia Spencer, Niecy Nash and Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa, according to a pool report.

TOP TWEETS

OUTSIDE THE LINES

  • The Komen Foundation’s decision to cut funding for Planned Parenthood has sparked an uproar, the New York Times reports.

  • The top aides to House Majority Leader Eric Cantor, R-Va., and House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, are now seeking a truce after a bitter year of behind-the-scenes fighting that pitted the top House Republicans against one another, Politico’s Jake Sherman and John Bresnehan report.

  • Indiana Gov. Mitch Daniels signed a right-to-work law Wednesday that labor activists say is unfair and extreme. “This law won’t be a magic answer, but we’ll be far better off with it,” the Republican governor said, according to the Indianapolis Star. “I respect those who have objected, but they have alarmed themselves unnecessarily: No one’s wages will go down, no one’s benefits will be reduced and the right to organize and bargain is untouched and intact.”

  • If you want to see Julianne Moore as Sarah Palin, watch the trailer for HBO’s “Game Change,” which premieres March 10. The movie is based on the book by Mark Halperin and John Heilemann.

  • Hotline posts a roundup of Senate race fundraising winners and losers:

  • Roll Call rounds up the fundraising in the oddball “Member-vs.-Members contests” provoked by redistricting.

ON THE TRAIL

All events are listed in Eastern Time.

  • Newt Gingrich campaigns in Nevada, beginning with an 11:30 a.m. event in Henderson, followed by a 1 p.m. roundtable in Las Vegas and capping things off with his expected Trump endorsement at 3:30 p.m.

  • Rick Santorum holds a media availability in Fallon, Nev., at 7 p.m. and addresses the Republican Jewish Coalition in Reno at 9 p.m.

  • Ron Paul holds a pair of Nevada rallies:in Elko at 7:30 p.m. and Reno at 10 p.m.

  • Mitt Romney holds a campaign rally in Reno at 7:30 p.m.

All future events can be found on our Political Calendar:


For more political coverage, visit our politics page.

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Follow the politics team on Twitter: @cbellantoni, @burlij, @elizsummers, @quinnbowman.