Mitt Romney played the role of compassionate conservative Tuesday, saying he is the best candidate to revitalize the economy and move people off welfare, a day after a video of his derisive comments about the large portion of Americans who don't pay income taxes put the Romney campaign on its heels.
"We just can't allow America to be a place where it's easier to get a government subsidy than to get a job," Romney told a group of about 1,150 supporters paying $1,000 apiece to attended a fundraising luncheon in Salt Lake City. "We measure success not by how many people have to be on welfare and [get] unemployment and food stamps. We measure success by how many people we can get off welfare, get off unemployment and stop getting food stamps because they're earning their own way."
Romney said President Barack Obama's policies have failed to spur growth, adding that a record number of Americans are in poverty and on food stamps, with 23 million out of work or underemployed, and the Democratic president is running on more of the same.
"We all believe that people in distress need help, and we give them help to pull themselves back up. But we don't believe in redistribution," the Republican nominee said. "We are compassionate, caring people. We want to help those in need ,but we don't believe that redistribution is the way to create a bright future."
The tone of the remarks was a stark contrast to video that surfaced Monday, secretly recorded while Romney was speaking in May at a Florida fundraiser where he spoke derisively of those receiving government assistance and said they would never vote for him.
"There are 47 percent who are with [Obama], who are dependent upon government, who believe that they are victims, who believe the 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, that that's an entitlement. And the government should give it to them," Romney said. "And they will vote for this president no matter what."
According to the Tax Policy Center, 47 percent do not pay federal income tax, but most of them do pay Social Security and Medicare taxes. Just over 10 percent of the elderly population pay no income taxes and 7 percent make too little to pay the federal tax.
In Utah, 38 percent of residents pay no income tax, making it the 13th highest rate of nonpayers in the country, according to the Tax Foundation.
Romney explained Monday evening that he stands by his sentiment, but it was not "elegantly" phrased.
It was the latest misstep for a campaign that has struggled to find its message during the past several weeks and trails Obama in most national polls and in most of the crucial battleground states.
Supporters at the fundraiser Tuesday saw it as a hiccup that Romney could overcome.
"I think it's definitely part of the game of politics. I think it's designed to be a diversion, and Mitt will address it and then hopefully we move on," said Eric Watterson of Logan. "I think it's got some major implications. Right now, it's the cherry on top of what people are calling 'The Meltdown of Mitt.' "
Former Utah Democratic Party Chairman Wayne Holland welcomed Romney to Utah on a conference call with reporters but blasted the comments the former Massachusetts governor made at the videotaped May fundraiser as "quite appalling."
"It is shocking that a candidate for the president of the United States would go behind closed doors and declare to a group of wealthy donors that half of the American people view themselves as victims and entitled to handouts and unwilling to take personal responsibility for their lives," Holland said. "How can Governor Romney expect to serve as president for all Americans when he has disdainfully written off half the nation?"
Salt Lake County Mayor Peter Corroon, a Democrat, also joined the call organized by the Democratic National Committee and said Americans are better off than they were four years ago.
"Now this doesn't mean that we're throwing a party," Corroon said. "It doesn't mean that everyone is achieving the same successes. The president is the first to admit we aren't where we need to be, and we can still do more."
John Hanna, who attended the Salt Lake City fundraiser Tuesday, said the comments from the video won't hurt the campaign in the long-term because Romney was telling the truth.
"I think he just stated what we've all been talking about. We know half of Americans have been taking government handouts," he said. "I think he needs to say it like it is more often."
Romney's stop in Utah was a short one. He arrived at the airport just after 11 a.m., when his motorcade shuttled him to the fundraiser at the Grand America Hotel.
A group of about two dozen protesters outside rallied in support for the Dream Act, which allows in-state college tuition for the children of illegal immigrants. Romney opposes the measure.
The demonstrators carried signs that read, "You Self-Deport" and "Remember Your Roots, Romney," a reference to the fact that Romney's father, George Romney, was born in a polygamous colony in Mexico.
Romney attended a private "roundtable" meeting with donors who gave $25,000 or more, divided between the Romney campaign and the national and various state Republican parties. The event was closed to the media.
Afterward he spoke at the $1,000-per-person luncheon before returning to the airport en route to Dallas for another fundraiser. The event is expected to raise between $1.5 million and $2 million.
Romney has leaned heavily on Utah for reliable financial support. The campaign had raised $4.8 million in the state as of the last filing period, which does not include nearly $1.5 million that was raised by vice presidential candidate Paul Ryan during a swing through the Beehive State earlier this month. That money was divided between the campaign and various state and national parties.
Utah is second in the nation behind only Washington, D.C. in per capita donations to Romney, who managed the 2002 Salt Lake City Winter Olympics, previously owned a home in Deer Valley and shares the LDS faith of the majority of the state's population.
Thomas Burr and David Montero contributed to this report.
Carter grandson arranged video's release
The grandson of former President Jimmy Carter says he persuaded the source who secretly taped Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney at a fundraiser to release the full video to the media.
James Carter IV says he was intrigued after seeing what he describes as a short, mysterious clip of Romney talking about Chinese factory conditions. He said he found those who shot the original video on Twitter in August and persuaded them to give the clips to a journalist at Mother Jones magazine, which released the video Monday.
On the video, Romney tells donors that nearly half of all Americans think they're entitled to government help. He also says Palestinians aren't interested in peace with Israel.
The Associated Press