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Romney: 47 Percent Dependent on Government

In 2008, then-candidate Barack Obama said people had been so beaten down by the (Bush) economy that they "get bitter and they cling to guns or religion," not realizing that it was being recorded. He took a tremendous amount of flack for that. Now it appears to be Romney's turn. Yesterday it came out that earlier this year he said: "47% of Americans are dependent on government." He added that there was no way he could win those votes and wouldn't try. He also said they "believe they are victims." Obama's campaign manager, Jim Messina, reacted immediately with: "It is hard to serve as President for all Americans when you've disdainfully written off half the nation."

Romney made his comments openly to a group of wealthy donors, probably most of whom agreed with him. What he didn't realize, of course, was that someone in the audience was recording it. The video is now online.

When it became clear this was going to be the dominant news story today (see NYT, LAT, CSM, The Hill, Reuters, Fox News, and Chicago Tribune, for example). Romney responded by saying his remarks "were not elegantly stated" and he had spoken "off the cuff." He didn't attempt to retract the message, however.

The fact checkers are going to have a field day with this one. Clearly government employees, soldiers, veterans, people on Social Security, Medicare or Medicaid, people who have gotten Small Business Administration loans, people who work for government contractors or companies the government bailed out (like banks and GM) are at least somewhat dependent on government. Whether that is 47% of the population is something else. The danger for Romney is that this story reinforces his image of wanting to be the President for the upper half. Gaffes only matter when they reinforce an existing stereotype and this one does. A report that Romney had an affair with a staffer would get zero attention because nobody would believe it was true.

Also, the literal numbers aside, Romney clearly is thinking that 47% of the population are lazy good-for-nothings (English translation: black and brown people) who are sponging off the hard-working 53% of Americans who work for a living. It is doubtful that he regards a white engineer working for a defense contractor as "dependent on government," although that is true, of course. Here is one report that notes Romney is confusing people who pay no federal income tax (for example, elderly, white Republicans who live only on Social Security) with black welfare mothers. Expect more reports today.

Up until now, many people thought that Romney didn't actually believe any of the stuff he was saying. They thought he was just saying it to appease his base. Now many people are going to think he really has disdain for much of the population. It makes his path tougher.

The two slip-ups show how the culture wars underlie everything in American politics. Many Democrats think Republicans are living in the dark ages, sacrificing goats to bring the sun back during an eclipse. Many Republicans think that Democrats are parasites on society who occasionally get out of their hammocks to go kill an unborn baby. It is hard to find common ground on anything when people's world views are so far apart.

Romney Advisor: We Will Get More Specific

Mitt Romney's senior campaign advisor, Ed Gillespie, said the campaign will now get more specific about what Romney plans to do if elected. No details were given.

The real reason Romney has not given much detail about his tax plan so far is that the numbers don't add up. In order to provide a 20% tax cut and reduce the deficit, it would be necessary to gut popular deductions such as mortgage interest and tax benefits such as employer-provided health insurance. If he were to propose these, it would set off a firestorm, so thus far he has been very vague about his plans. It is hard to imagine him becoming more specific now because the problem still exists. Most likely he will invoke supply-side economics and say that tax cuts stimulate the economy so much that there will be massive new revenue the government can use to reduce the deficit. That didn't happen after the Bush tax cuts and is unlikely to happen in the future, but it is not clear what else he can say.

Gillespie's statement was forced by a Politico story yesterday about turmoil within Romney's inner circle, much of it focusing on his top strategist, Stuart Stevens, who many conservatives intensely dislike because he is more of a tactician than a movement conservative. While this is all inside baseball to which the average voter is totally oblivious, conservative activists are well aware of what is going on and are constantly showering Romney with advice, mostly to be more conservative. The trouble with that is doing so will scare away moderates and independents, including those who were tentatively planning to vote for Romney. What Gillespie was trying to do was calm activists without setting off any alarms among the general public.

Skepticism about Romney's new course abounds. The Time Magazine story about Gillespie's statement was entitled: "Promising Change of All Kinds, Romney Campaign Plans More of the Same." The National Journal's story bears the title: "Beleaguered Romney Camp Looks to Reinforce, Not Reboot." At this point, a lot of reporters have a wait-and-see attitude.

Americans Disapprove of Romney's Remarks on the Middle East

A new Pew poll shows that by a wide margin (48% to 26%), people disapprove of Romney's remarks attacking Obama for the events in Egypt and Libya last week. In contrast, by a margin of 45% to 36%, people approve of Obama's handling of the situation. The difference between -22% and +9% puts Obama 30 points ahead on the issue. As foreign policy becomes more of an issue, it will be hard for Romney to shake the idea that he is an impulsive greenhorn in the area.

Trade with China Becomes a Campaign Issue

Another foreign policy issue that is emerging is trade with China. Romney has been saying that he is going to get tougher with China, a country that competes with the U.S. in the manufacturing sector. Obama replied to him yesterday while campaigning in manufacturing-heavy Ohio, noting that his administration had just filed a suit with the World Trade Organization accusing China of giving illegal subsidies to companies making auto parts. While foreign policy hasn't played much of a role in the campaign until now, it is starting to heat up. The third presidential debate, just 2 weeks before the election, is devoted entirely to the subject.

The Latina Gap: 53 Percent

Obama is doing well with women and also with Latinos, so one might expect him to be doing especially well with Hispanic women. A new poll from Latino Decisions, a firm specializing in polling Latinos, shows that among Latinas, 74% prefer Obama and only 21% prefer Romney. Among Latino men the numbers are not quite as good for Obama, but he still leads 61% to 32%. The numbers for House Democrats and Republicans are roughly the same. On the question about trusting the candidates to make the right decisions for women, the Latinas split 78% for Obama and 13% for Romney, a gap of 65%.

Part of Romney's problem is due to the Republicans' use of the term "anchor babies," which Latinas see as a direct hit on Hispanic mothers. Another big part is the Republicans' opposition to the DREAM Act, which would allow children who were brought into the U.S. illegally but who have graduated from high school or served in the Armed Forces to get green cards. Hispanic women are strongly in favor of it, as is Obama. Attacking women and children is generally not considered a good campaign strategy. There is little chance Romney can do anything at this point to change these numbers.

Study: Tax Cuts Don't Lead to Growth

A new study looking at 65 years of data shows no correlation between tax cuts and job growth. A graph in the story makes it clear that the George H.W. Bush and Clinton tax increases did not hurt the economy and the George W. Bush tax cuts did not help it. Also noted is that economic growth was high during the Eisenhower administration, when the top marginal tax rate was 91%.

Today's Presidential Polls

State Obama Romney   Start End Pollster
Illinois 47% 34%   Sep 04 Sep 10 Southern Illinois U.
Indiana 41% 47%   Sep 10 Sep 12 Global Strategy
Massachusetts 64% 31%   Sep 13 Sep 16 Suffolk U.
Oregon 50% 41%   Sep 10 Sep 13 SurveyUSA
Pennsylvania 50% 39%   Sep 09 Sep 12 Philadelphia Inquirer
Wisconsin 49% 48%   Sep 12 Sep 13 PPP

Today's Senate Polls

Wisconsin is becoming a real battleground state, both for the presidential and Senate races. For the first time since July, Tammy Baldwin is leading Tommy Thompson. However, this one is likely to go down to the wire.

State Democrat D % Republican R % I I % Start End Pollster
Indiana Joe Donnelly 45% Richard Mourdock 42%     Sep 10 Sep 12 Global Strategy
Massachusetts Elizabeth Warren 48% Scott Brown* 44%     Sep 13 Sep 16 Suffolk U.
Virginia Tim Kaine 47% George Allen 45%     Sep 13 Sep 13 Rasmussen
Virginia Tim Kaine 47% George Allen 46%     Sep 13 Sep 16 PPP
Wisconsin Tammy Baldwin 48% Tommy Thompson 45%     Sep 12 Sep 13 PPP

* Denotes incumbent