Mitt Romney pauses while speaking during the final day of the 2012 Republican National Convention at the Tampa Bay Times Forum August 29, 2012 in Tampa, Florida. (BRENDAN SMIALOWSKI/AFP/GettyImages)
FISHERSVILLE, Va. -- Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney has described his disparaging remarks about the 47 percent of Americans who don't pay federal income taxes as "not elegantly stated." Now he's calling them "just completely wrong."
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The original remarks, secretly recorded during a fundraiser in May and posted online in September by the magazine Mother Jones, sparked intense criticism of Romney and provided fodder to those who portray him as an out-of-touch millionaire oblivious to the lives of average Americans. The remarks became a staple of Obama campaign criticism.
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Initially, Romney defended his view, telling reporters at a news conference shortly after the video was posted that his remarks were "not elegantly stated" and that they were spoken "off the cuff." He didn't disavow them, however, and later adopted as a response when the remarks were raised that his campaign supports "the 100 percent in America."
In an interview Thursday night with Fox News, Romney was asked what he would have said had the "47 percent" comments come up during his debate in Denver on Wednesday night with President Barack Obama.
"Well, clearly in a campaign, with hundreds if not thousands of speeches and question-and-answer sessions, now and then you're going to say something that doesn't come out right," Romney said. "In this case, I said something that's just completely wrong."
He added: "And I absolutely believe, however, that my life has shown that I care about 100 percent and that's been demonstrated throughout my life. And this whole campaign is about the 100 percent."
Critics of Romney's "47 percent" remarks noted that many of those who don't pay federal incomes taxes pay other forms of taxes. More than 16 million elderly Americans avoid federal income taxes solely because of tax breaks that apply only to seniors, the nonpartisan Tax Policy Center reports. Millions of others don't pay federal income taxes because they don't earn enough after deductions and exemptions.
Acknowledging error is rare for Romney. Asked recently whether his TV ads had strayed from the facts, he said they had been "absolutely spot-on." Fact-checking operations have argued otherwise.
Some conservatives rallied around Romney after the video surfaced, urging him to stand behind the remarks as accurate despite the criticism.
"There are 47 percent of the people who will vote for the president no matter what," Romney said in the video. "There are 47 percent who are with him, who are dependent upon government, who believe that they are victims, who believe that 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."
"Forty-seven percent of Americans pay no income tax," Romney said, and that his role "is not to worry about those people. I'll never convince them they should take personal responsibility and care for their lives."
Romney later told reporters at a news conference called to address the remarks: "It's not elegantly stated, let me put it that way. I was speaking off the cuff in response to a question. And I'm sure I could state it more clearly in a more effective way than I did in a setting like that."