TODAY   |  September 18, 2012

Romney on comments secretly recorded at fundraiser

GOP presidential nominee Mitt Romney defended his unguarded comments, secretly recorded at a private fundraising event in May and provided to the liberal magazine Mother Jones, that shows him speaking frankly about Obama’s supporters. NBC’s Michael Isikoff reports.

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>>> comments secretly recorded at a private fund-raiser in which he criticized obama supporters as victims who are dependent on government. michael isikoff is nbc 's national correspondent. good morning to you.

>> good morning, savannah. the newly leaked video was taken from a digital camera concealed in a piece of furniture 20 feet from romney as he spoke at a florida fund-raiser four months ago, and it's now raising tough new questions for his presidential campaign .

>> there are 47% of the people who will vote for the president no matter what.

>> reporter: the video first obtained by mother jones and later by nbc news shows romney surrounded by donors in may. nbc news has learned it was secretly recorded at a $50,000 a plate fund-raiser at the boca ra raton, florida home of a private equity leader.

>> there are 47% who are with him, dependent on government works believe they are victims, who believe the government has a responsibility to take care of them, who are entitled to food, to housing, you name it. it's an entitlement and that the government should give it to them, and they will vote for this president no matter what.

>> reporter: romney concedes he has little chance of winning these voters over because they can't relate to his message of lower taxes and less government.

>> these are people who pay no income tax . 47% of americans pay no income tax , so our message of low taxes doesn't connect. we'll be out there talking about tax cuts for the rich, that's what they sell to you every four years, and so my job is not to worry about those, people who should take personal responsibility and take care of their lives. what i have to convince is the 5% to 10% in the center that are independent, that are thoughtful, that look at voting one way or the other depending in some cases on emotion, whether they like the guy or not.

>> reporter: later asked why he doesn't attack the president more forcefully, romney says this about swing voters he's targeting.

>> because they voted for him, they don't want to be told that they were wrong, that he's a bad guy , that he did bad thing, he's corrupt. those people that we have to get, they want to believe they did the right thing but he just wasn't up to the task. they love the phrase that he's over his head

>> reporter: obama campaign called romney 's comments shocking, romney on monday night responded at a campaign event in california.

>> good evening. it's not elegantly stated, let me put it that way. i'm speaking off the cuff in response to a question, and i'm sure i could state it more clearly and in a more effective way than i did in a setting like that. the president believes and what i've described as a government-centered society where government plays a larger and larger role, provides for more and more of the needs of individuals, and i happen to believe instead in a free enterprise , free individual society where people pursuing their dreams are able to employ one another, build enterprises, build the strongest economy in the world. i happen to believe that my approach is the approach that will put 23 million people back to work again.

>> reporter: at one point in the video romney also makes a joke about the background of his famous father who was born of american parents in mexico.

>> had he been born of mexican parents, i'd have a better shot of winning this, but he was -- he was an american living in mexico and lived there a number of years. i said that jokingly, but it would be helpful, you know, to be latino.

>> reporter: the source who made the secret video insisted to nbc news the original motivation was not political but simple curiosity, to see what romney would say in the unscripted setting but after watching the tape the source decided the public should hear what romney said and was encouraged to release it after talks with an atlanta political researcher names james carter iv, the grandson of jimmy carter , a president frequently compared to barack obama as an example of a failed president. savannah?

>> thank you.