Mitt Romney's White House campaign was rocked by a secretly filmed video in which he said nearly half of Americans back President Barack Obama because they are government-dependent "victims" who pay no taxes.
Obama's team quickly seized on the 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.
In a hastily-arranged press conference in Los Angeles, Romney insisted that his goal as president would be to "help all Americans," but he did not shy away from the remarks, saying only that they were "not elegantly stated."
The video was the latest blow to the Romney campaign as it fights off reports that its team is in disarray and struggles to close a small but consistent gap with Obama in national polls and battleground states.
In excerpts from the video, which emerged 50 days before the November 6 election, Romney says in a private fundraiser that 47 percent of Americans are essentially freeloaders who 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," he says.
"My job is is not to worry about those people. I'll never convince them they should take personal responsibility and care for their lives."
Mother Jones streamed the images on its website and blurred everyone except Romney. The magazine later said the event was a May 17 fundraiser at the home of private equity manager Marc Leder in Boca Raton, Florida.
The leaked footage provided the latest in a long line of comments by Romney that have complicated his attempts to shed the image framed by Obama's campaign of 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 said 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," Romney stressed.
"The president has his group, I have my group. I want to keep my team strong and motivated and I want to get those people in the middle," Romney added.
"That's something which fundraising people who are parting with their monies are very interested in knowing -- can you win or not? -- and that's what this was addressing."
Romney then headed to a fundraiser in Orange County that raised more than $4 million, his campaign said.
Romney earlier dismissed reports, fanned by a story on the Politico website, of campaign infighting.
"I've got a terrific campaign," he said in an interview with Spanish language network Telemundo.
"My senior campaign people work extraordinarily well together. I work well with them. Our campaign is doing well."
Obama meanwhile was on the road in the key swing state of Ohio, mocking Romney's anti-China rhetoric and then jabbing Beijing himself by announcing a new trade case targeting the Asian giant's auto industry subsidies.
The president professed to "walk the walk" in making China play by global trade rules while implying that Romney preferred to "talk the talk."
Obama 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 on China as "too little, too late" but spent the day tending to his own political wounds.
He also tried to narrow his deficit to Obama among Latinos, telling the Hispanic Chamber of Commerce in Los Angeles that Hispanics had been "particularly hard-hit" in the Obama-era economy.
However, in another clip released by Mother Jones he was caught saying that it would have been more helpful to his political prospects had his Mexico-born father been Mexican.
"I say that jokingly, but it would be helpful to be Latino," he said.
In a Latino Decisions tracking poll after the Democratic convention two weeks ago, Obama led Romney among Hispanic voters 66-29 percent.
Obama leads most recent polls in battlegrounds by small but clear margins. His convention "polling" bounce seems to be ebbing, however, with Obama up by three points in Gallup's latest daily tracking survey.