Mitt Romney was rocked Monday by a secretly filmed video in which he said nearly half of Americans back President Barack Obama because they are government-dependent "victims" who dodge taxes.
Obama's team quickly seized on film of Romney addressing rich donors, released by the liberal Mother Jones magazine, as proof the multi-millionaire candidate had written off half the nation and was not fit to be president.
The video was the latest blow to the Romney team as it fought off reports that the Republican's White House bid is in disarray, as he struggles to close a small but consistent gap to Obama in national polls and battleground states.
In excerpts from the video, which emerged 50 days before the November 6 election, Romney is seen to say in a closed-door, private fundraiser that 47 percent of Americans will vote for the president "no matter what."
"There are 47 percent who are with him, 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," he says.
"These are people who pay no income tax. So our message of low taxes doesn't connect. I'll never convince them they should take personal responsibility and care for their lives."
Mother Jones streamed the images on its website and said identities of people in them were blurred, and the venue of the meeting was obscured to protect its source.
The explosive tape was the latest in a long line of comments by Romney that have complicated his attempts to shed an image framed by Obama's campaign that he is a rich businessman out of touch with the middle class.
Obama's campaign manager Jim Messina pounced.
"It's shocking that a candidate for President of the United States would go behind closed doors and declare to a group of wealthy donors that half the American people view themselves as 'victims,' entitled to handouts, and are unwilling to take 'personal responsibility' for their lives," he said.
"It's hard to serve as president for all Americans when you've disdainfully written off half the nation."
In California, a nervous-looking Romney told reporters of the video: "it's not elegantly stated, let me put it that way."
But "I am talking about the political process of drawing people into my campaign ... This is about the direction of the country," Romney stressed.
Romney earlier dismissed reports, fanned by a story on the Politico website, of internal campaign infighting.
"I've got a terrific campaign," he said in an interview with Telemundo, a Spanish language television network.
"My senior campaign people work extraordinarily well together. I work well with them. Our campaign is doing well," he said.
Senior Romney advisor Ed Gillespie meanwhile said that the candidate would unveil more concrete plans to voters than he has previously laid out, at campaign appearances this week.
Obama was meanwhile on the road in the key swing state of Ohio, mocking Romney's tough anti-China rhetoric, then jabbing Beijing himself by announcing a new trade case targeting Beijing's auto industry subsidies.
The president professed to "walk the walk" in making China play by global trade rules while implying Romney preferred to "talk the talk."
He again accused his rival of being a pioneer during his business career of advising US corporations to outsource jobs to low wage economies abroad.
Romney dismissed Obama's action as "too little, too late" but spent the day tending to his own political weaknesses.
He also tried to narrow his deficit to Obama among Latinos, telling the Hispanic Chamber of Commerce in Los Angeles that Obama had promised a world of "limitless hope" but had instead delivered misery.
"No one is exempt from the pain of this economy, of course, but the Hispanic community has been particularly hard-hit," Romney said, and also pledged to push for comprehensive immigration reform, a key issue for Hispanic voters.
But his effort could be undermined by a clip of the meeting with donors in which Romney said it would have been more helpful to his political prospects had his father been born Mexican.
"I say that jokingly, but it would be helpful to be Latino," he says, according to the clip.
In a poll by the Latino decisions polling group after the Democratic National Convention two weeks ago, Obama led Romney among Hispanic voters by 66 to 29 percent.
Obama leads most recent polls in battleground states, by small but clear margins. The president's convention "polling" bounce seems to be ebbing however. Obama was up by just three points in Gallup's latest daily tracking survey.