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Remarks From Romney Spark Controversy


From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Melissa Block.


And I'm Audie Cornish.

Mitt Romney's huge victory in yesterday's Florida primary has been overshadowed today by a remark he made earlier in an interview. He said he wasn't concerned about the very poor because or their ample safety net. NPR's Ari Shapiro is following the Romney campaign and joins us from Las Vegas, Nevada. Ari, what exactly did Governor Romney say? What's the real quote.

ARI SHAPIRO, BYLINE: You know, it was not all that different from something that he's been saying on the stump at least since New Hampshire, where his point is we can fix the social safety net if it needs fixing and that the people who are really suffering right now are the middle class. Listen to this quote from CNN, which is what he said this morning.

MITT ROMNEY: I'm not concerned about the very poor. We have a safety net there. If it needs repair, I'll fix it. 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.

SHAPIRO: Later this morning, on a flight to Minnesota, he told reporters that he was just trying to express his concern for the middle class. But by that point, the damage had been done and there was already a firestorm raging about this comment.

CORNISH: Okay, so talk a little bit more about how much damage. What's the reaction been?

SHAPIRO: Well, from the left, people were saying, look, this is a guy who does not care about the poor, he is elitist, he is out of touch – some of the same criticism we've heard about Romney throughout the campaign from the left. Perhaps more interestingly, from the right, you have a lot of conservatives saying he may have been trying to make a valid point, but he made it in a way that gave Democrats more ammunition that they will use against him. And they're concerned that they're seeing a pattern of these kinds of verbal gaffes from the guy who seems destined to be the presidential nominee of the Republican Party.

CORNISH: But, Ari, does it really set a pattern? I mean, is this just one or two incidents that build into the narrative or does Romney really have a problem?

SHAPIRO: Well, the truth is, with presidential candidates, the gaffes that stick tend to be the ones that confirm to the negative stereotype of that person. Whether you're talking about Al Gore – I invented the Internet – or John Kerry – I was for the Iraq war before I was against it. The fact is, Mitt Romney does tend to make slips of the tongue. Sometimes they are comments taken out of context, as in when he said I like to fire people, talking about getting rid of health insurance companies who don't give good service. Other times, he means what he's saying. Corporations are people was a statement that he defended. But the problem is, all of these, quote-unquote, gaffes, feed into a narrative that this is a guy with a lot of money who's out of touch. And that's a narrative that conservatives are really concerned that liberals will seize on as this election continues to unfold.

CORNISH: NPR's Ari Shapiro. Ari, thanks so much.

SHAPIRO: Good to talk to you, Audie. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.