Seven weeks before voters decide on their next president, a secretly recorded video threatens to further undo Republican candidate Mitt Romney by portraying him as out of touch with ordinary Americans.
Taped with a hidden camera at a private fund-raising event in May, the video shows Romney telling his donors that nearly half of Americans back President Barack Obama because they rely on government support.
"There are 47 percent of the people who will vote for the president no matter what," Romney says in one clip first posted on Monday afternoon. "There are 47 percent who are with him, who are dependent on government, who believe that, that they are victims, who believe that government has the responsibility to care for them. Who believe that they are entitled to health care, to food, to housing."
It's the latest in what has been a shaky stretch for the Romney campaign following last month's political conventions and as the candidates hurtle toward three presidential debates next month.
Criticism came from both sides of the political spectrum, with conservative commentator William Kristol posting on the Weekly Standard website Tuesday that Romney's comments insulted some of his own supporters -- such as senior citizens on Medicare.
The former Massachusetts governor held a brief news conference late Monday to address the video footage that emerged earlier in the day, saying his comments were "off the cuff" and "not elegantly stated" while defending the main message that the election is a choice between a big government society under Obama or one that emphasizes personal responsibility.
"We have a very different approach - the president and I - between a government-dominated society and a society driven by free people pursuing their dreams," Romney said. As for why he spoke more candidly with the group of donors, Romney said he was addressing some concerns at the fund-raiser.
"At a fund-raiser you have people say, 'Governor how are you going to win this?' And so I respond 'Well, 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.' That's something which fund-raising people who are parting with their monies are very interested in," Romney said.
Obama's campaign quickly seized on the reports, issuing a statement that said it was "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."
"It's hard to serve as president for all Americans when you've disdainfully written off half the nation," Obama campaign manager Jim Messina said in the statement released on Monday.
Obama had a celebrity tinged day planned, heading to New York later Tuesday for an appearance on "Late Show with David Letterman" and then addressing two fund-raisers, including one hosted by entertainers Beyonce and Jay-Z.
The new controversy for Romney follows questions raised last week about an initially inaccurate statement by Romney after attacks on U.S. diplomatic compounds in Egypt and Libya, as polls showed Obama receiving a "bounce" in support after the Democratic National Convention that ended September 6.
Unable to gain ground in recent polling, Romney's campaign pledged this week to retool its approach to again focus on economic issues identified by voters as their top priority. However, the new video clips provide the Obama campaign with new ammunition to challenge the commitment of Romney -- a multimillionaire former businessman -- to working class Americans struggling under the nation's sluggish economic recovery.
Republican National Committee chairman Reince Priebus defended Romney on Monday, saying the nominee was simply describing the "monstrosity" of government.
"The point of all of this is that the size of government is too big, and if we don't do something about it we're going to really lose the very idea of America," Priebus said on CNN's "The Situation Room," adding: "I don't have the numbers in front of me but clearly what we do have, very clearly, is a government and a society here in this country that is becoming dependent."
The secretly recorded videos were posted Monday afternoon by the left-leaning news websites The Huffington Post and Mother Jones. The person responsible for the footage said he or she wishes to remain anonymous for "professional reasons and to avoid a lawsuit," according to the Huffington Post.
Appearing on MSNBC late Monday night, the author of the Mother Jones article, David Corn, said the event took place May 17 in Boca Raton, Florida, at the home of Sun Capital executive Marc Leder.
Another clip from the event, posted later Monday, shows Romney questioning the prospect of ever reaching peace between Israelis and Palestinians.
"I'm torn by two perspectives in this regard," Romney is shown saying.