MINNEAPOLIS – A day after a resounding Florida victory that revived his unofficial title of front-runner for the Republican presidential nomination, Mitt Romney found himself trying to dig out of comments he made about the “very poor” in a CNN interview.
"I'm not concerned about the very poor. We have a safety net there. If it needs a repair, I'll fix it," Romney said on CNN's Starting Point. "I'm not concerned about the very rich. They're doing just fine. I'm concerned about the very heart of America, the 90, 95 percent of Americans who right now are struggling." Asked by host Soledad O’Brien to elaborate, Romney repeated that he was not “focused” on the very poor because they had a safety net.
Romney's chief rival Newt Gingrich blasted the remark. "I am fed up with politicians in either party pitting Americans against each other," Gingrich said. "I am running to be the president of all the American people, and I am concerned about all the American people."
Gingrich then discussed the founding fathers' intentions for the nation and said, "Let me shock Governor Romney. The founding fathers meant the very poor, who they called Americans."
The comments also set off a flurry in social media. Later, as Romney flew from Tampa to Minneapolis for a campaign rally, he said his focus is middle income families because they have been “most hurt by the Obama economy.”
He also defended his remarks on CNN. “You’ve got to take the whole sentence,” he said, and not just a fragment of it. “I've said throughout the campaign my focus, my concern, my energy is going to be devoted to helping middle income people, all right? We have a safety net for the poor in, and if there are holes in it, I will work to repair that. And if there are people that are falling through the cracks I want to fix that.”
Asked if he thinks there are holes in the safety net, Romney replied: “Oh, I'm sure there are. I'm sure there are places where people fall between the cracks. And finding those places is one of the things that is the responsibility of government.”
But he said there is “a very ample safety net in America, with Medicaid, housing vouchers, food stamps, earned income tax credit.” The real challenge now, he said, is how to “get more people in the middle class and get people out of being poor and becoming middle income."