ATLANTA — Mitt Romney pushed back Wednesday against claims that he’s written off half the country and said he, not President Barack Obama, can better improve the lot of poor Americans.
“The question of this campaign is not who cares about the poor and middle class. I do, he does,” Romney said, his voice rising. “The question is who can help the poor and middle class. I can, he can’t, he couldn’t in four years.” The crowd of nearly 1,000, each of whom had paid at least $1,000, roared its approval.
In a 23-minute speech at a fundraiser at the Marriott Marquis in downtown Atlanta, the Republican presidential hopeful several times appeared to answer criticisms that arose from a video shot in May. The video, taken at a Florida fundraiser, was shot secretly and released this week by Mother Jones magazine.
In the video, Romney said 47 percent of the country pay no net income taxes, support Obama and “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. … My job is not to worry about those people. I’ll never convince them they should take personal responsibility and care for their lives.”
Wednesday in Atlanta, Romney referenced the downtrodden often, to highlight the perceived failures of the Obama economy and to show empathy for their plight.
“This is going to be an election of a very stark choice,” Romney said. “The question is going to be who is better equipped and has better direction in mind to help the people of America who so badly need help. We have a lot of people in trouble.”
Romney also made reference to a video of Obama that is now making the rounds. The Obama video, from 1998, shows the then-Illinois state senator saying he approves of some “redistribution.” Romney and Republicans have said Obama meant redistributing wealth, which they say is akin to socialism. Obama’s campaign said his fuller remarks show he meant redistributing government funds among agencies.
“He really believes in what I’ll call a government-centered society,” Romney said. “There are some people who believe that if you simply take from some and give to others we’ll all be better off. It’s called redistribution. A tape came out a couple days ago of the president saying yes, he believes in redistribution. I don’t.”
If elected, Romney said, he would fix America’s economy by doubling federal permits to drill for oil and gas, repeal the health care overhaul Obama championed and replace it with something else, stand up to China on trade issues and slash the federal deficit.
Romney was introduced by Gov. Nathan Deal, and the crowd included other top Republicans: House Speaker David Ralston, R-Blue Ridge, Lt. Gov Casey Cagle and Attorney General Sam Olens. Only Olens endorsed Romney in the primary. Deal co-chaired Newt Gingrich’s campaign and Cagle originally endorsed Texas Gov. Rick Perry. Ralston did not endorse a primary candidate.
Outside the Marriott, eight protesters from MoveOn.org and USAction, two liberal groups angry with Romney’s economic policies, had a problem with those plans.
Lydia Maestas of Atlanta, one of those protesting, said she is “honestly appalled by his statements. It just shows he believes it. He just doesn’t get it. We’re all retired. We worked all our lives and we’re part of the 47 percent and we’re not asking for handouts.”