In the clip, part of which was first posted Monday by the liberal magazine Mother Jones, Romney says the 47 percent of Americans who pay no income tax will support Obama no matter what he does and "my job is not to worry about those people."
They are people "who are dependent upon government, who believe that they are victims, who believe the government has a responsibility to care for them," Romney says as white-gloved waiters serve guests at the $50,000-a-person dinner at the Boca Raton home of Marc J. Leder, a private-equity executive who is a co-owner of the 76ers.
Romney appeared on Fox News Tuesday afternoon, standing by his remarks and making a more forceful defense than he did late Monday after the video surfaced. He said he had merely intended to highlight the philosophical distance between Democrats and Republicans over the role of government.
"I believe the right course for America is one where government steps in to help those that are in need," he said. "We're a compassionate people, but then we let people build their own lives, create enterprises. We believe in free people and free enterprise, not redistribution. The right course for America is to create growth, create wealth, not to redistribute wealth."
In the video, Romney also tells donors that the Palestinians have no interest in pursuing a peace agreement. "I look at the Palestinians not wanting to see peace anyway, for political purposes, committed to the destruction and elimination of Israel, and these thorny issues, and I say there's just no way," he says.
The remarks about income taxes reflect a growing theme among some conservatives who speak of "the makers and the takers" to argue that government has gone too far and grown too large. Newt Gingrich, for instance, drew cheers in the primaries when he called Obama the "food-stamp president" because of a record number of people using that benefit during the recession.
Among those who do not pay income tax are the disabled, as well as elderly Americans who don't earn enough to be taxed.
Some analysts said the episode may not wound Romney deeply - since few voters are truly undecided in what has been a stable contest, with each candidate able to count on the support of his respective base. "Folks largely have their minds made up. It's a turnout game now," said Daniel F. McElhatton, a Philadelphia-based Democratic strategist. He said the main risk for Romney is that the remarks might discourage some people who were leaning toward him.
The video did serve to reinforce the Obama campaign's narrative that Romney, a former private-equity executive, is a corporate raider out of touch with the lives of working-class Americans at best - and, at worst, a malevolent job-killer. That could be seen Tuesday in the eagerness of Democrats to flay Romney, and in the efforts of GOP Senate candidates in two moderate states to distance themselves from the man atop the ticket.
Mayor Nutter, in a conference call arranged by the Obama campaign, told reporters that Romney had offhandedly insulted much of the nation he hopes to lead and shown "he is completely out of touch."
Ronnie Wardrip, a delegate to an Ohio AFL-CIO convention meeting here Tuesday, said he could not believe at first that Romney would say something "so disrespectful" about millions of Americans enduring hard times.
"He just threw aside an entire sector of the country," said Wardrip, 52, a steelworker from Canton. "I know people and have people in my family who are trying to scratch their way back up. People who are struggling don't like to struggle."
In Connecticut, GOP Senate candidate Linda McMahon, who has said those who don't pay income tax should have to chip in a "fair share," said Tuesday that she knew most of those "who rely on government are not in that situation because they want to be."
In Massachusetts, where Romney once was governor, another Republican said of his remarks, "That's not how I view the world." Sen. Scott Brown, in a tough reelection fight, told the political newspaper the Hill, "As someone who grew up in tough circumstances, I know that being on public assistance is not a spot that anyone wants to be in."
Still, there was good news for the challenger's campaign in new polls indicating Obama's postconvention surge had receded and the race was settling back into a dead heat.
Perhaps the biggest threat to Romney lies in the timing of the contretemps - less than two months before the election, and just as his campaign was trying to refocus on its essential message about the economy. Instead of critiquing Obama's policies or fleshing out details of his own - as his advisers had promised Monday - Romney spent the better part of 24 hours on damage control.
Christopher Borick, a political scientist at Muhlenberg College in Allentown, said, "Slip-ups like this really do punish candidates in terms of their ability to gather momentum."
Contact Thomas Fitzgerald at 215-854-2718 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
Inquirer staff writer Jonathan Tamari contributed to this article.