Mitt Romney, fresh off an energizing Florida victory, fell into old habits Wednesday by handing his opponents yet another quote for the “aloof rich guy” oppo file.
“I’m not concerned about the very poor, we have a safety net there,” Romney said on CNN. “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 percent of Americans who, right now, are struggling, and I’ll continue to take that message across the nation.”
Pressed to clarify, he added that it is indeed hard out there for the poor: “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.”
Already Democrats, looking to brand Romney as an out-of-touch millionaire, are leaping on the latest quote.
“I’m glad he cleared that up,” DNC communications director Brad Woodhouse said in an e-mail.
Romney has expressed similar sentiments in the past, arguing that programs like Medicaid and food stamps are in place to help lower income families, but that those caught in the middle of the spectrum are left adrift. But his choice of words — “I’m not concerned about the very poor” — is going to follow him, just as his quote about how he likes “being able to fire people who provide services to me,” while actually a reference to health care companies, has haunted him all month.
Romney is clearly aware that he has to be extra careful to sound empathetic — the basic point has been part of his stump speech, and he’s refined it over time. “I’m concerned about the poor in this country,” he said in one speech earlier this month. “We have to make sure the safety net is strong and able to help those who can’t help themselves.”
Video of the CNN interview below:
Update: Romney spokeswoman Andrea Saul responded to the hubbub over the quote with a statement to reporters.
“President Obama has destroyed the middle class,” she said in an e-mail. “His policies have given us a stagnant economy, high unemployment, declining wages, increase in poverty, and record amounts of new debt. President Obama is so detached from what is happening in the real world that he finds it hard to believe an unemployed engineer can’t find a job. President Obama calls the plight of the unemployed ‘interesting.’ Mitt Romney calls it ‘inexcusable.’ We look forward debating President Obama on how his policies have failed the middle class.”
Benjy Sarlin is a reporter for Talking Points Memo and co-writes the campaign blog, TPM2012. He previously reported for The Daily Beast/Newsweek as their Washington Correspondent and covered local politics for the New York Sun.