WASHINGTON - Another day, another disaster for Mitt Romney's presidential campaign — this time over an undercover video that shows him deriding Barack Obama voters as government freeloaders and lifelong victims.
While the four-month-old remarks aren't likely to offend the like-minded Republicans already firmly in his camp, they represent just the latest in a recent string of campaign setbacks — and even conservative commentators are now suggesting Romney's White House aspirations are on serious life support.
The video, posted by the left-leaning Mother Jones magazine, was shot at a May 17 fundraiser in Florida hosted by private equity guru Mark Leder, whose high-flying, hard-partying lifestyle was just one element of the PR nightmare unfolding Tuesday for Team Romney.
"There are 47 per cent of the people who will vote for the president no matter what," Romney says in the video.
"All right, there are 47 per cent 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."
It's not his job to worry about those voters, Romney says in the video.
"I'll never convince them they should take personal responsibility and care for their lives."
As the video came back to haunt Romney late Monday, he held a hastily arranged news conference in California. Looking pained, he didn't disavow the comments but said they were "not elegantly stated" and spoken "off the cuff."
The comments were part of a discussion about campaign strategy, not his vision of the country, he added.
But the reaction was fast and furious, and the fury continued unabated on Tuesday. Not surprisingly, Obama's re-election team pounced.
"It's hard to serve as president for all Americans when you've disdainfully written off half the nation," said Obama campaign manager Jim Messina.
Obama surrogate Ted Strickland, the former Democratic governor of Ohio, accused Romney of viewing anyone outside his economic class as a leech.
"This man apparently feels if you're not part of his social class or ... you don't have his economic status, that somehow you're a parasite," he said.
Conservative reaction was equally grim.
Bill Kristol, editor of the Weekly Standard, called Romney's comments "stupid and arrogant."
David Frum, the Canadian-born conservative who's a respected Republican moderate pundit in the U.S., wrote on the Daily Beast that Romney "has just committed the worst presidential-candidate gaffe since Gerald Ford announced in 1976 that 'there is no Soviet domination of Eastern Europe.'"
David Brooks, a conservative columnist at the New York Times, said Romney's comments were the talk of "self-satisfied millionaires" and reflected a "country-club fantasy."
"It suggests that he really doesn't know much about the country he inhabits. Who are these freeloaders? Is it the Iraq war veteran who goes to the VA (Department of Veterans Affairs)? Is it the student getting a loan to go to college? Is it the retiree on Social Security or Medicare?"
The latest brouhaha came just hours after Romney campaign officials, already the subject of reports about bitter infighting, declared they would get their candidate back on track by providing more details about his policies in the weeks leading up to the Nov. 6 vote.
Romney, meantime, spent the day in California, addressing a Hispanic business audience.
And yet the video wasn't likely to win him any more friends among Latinos, either. Romney discussed some of the problems his campaign was having attracting Hispanic voters, and he made a joke about his Mexican-born father.
"Had he been born of Mexican parents, I'd have a better shot of winning this," he says.
As if the content of the video wasn't bad enough for Romney, there were also sordid details on Tuesday about the man who hosted the $50,000-a-plate fundraiser for the straight-laced Mormon politician.
Dubbed a "private equity party boy" by the New York Post, Mark Leder has donated almost $300,000 to Romney and other Republicans in recent months. He's a co-owner of the Philadelphia 76ers basketball team and his name pops up frequently in tabloid reports as he hangs out with rap icon Russell Simmons and other celebrities.
The Post reported a year ago about a party at an oceanfront mansion rented by Leder "where guests cavorted nude in the pool and performed sex acts, scantily dressed Russians danced on platforms and men twirled lit torches to a booming techno beat."
Leder later dismissed the reports as exaggerated.