WASHINGTON (AP) — Democrats running for the House and Senate are pouncing on Mitt Romney's remarks that nearly half of all Americans think they are "victims" entitled to government help and that he doesn't worry about "those people."
"Mitt Romney and Dean Heller are reading from the same script when it comes to struggling middle-class families," said Democratic Rep. Shelley Berkley, who is seeking to unseat Heller in Nevada's competitive Senate race.
"It's a troubling and shocking position to take, especially for a man running for president of the United States," said Annie Kuster, a New Hampshire Democrat hoping to oust Republican Rep. Charlie Bass in one of the country's most competitive House races. "Congressman Bass needs to make clear whether he supports this view and explain why he continues to campaign with a presidential candidate who is this out of touch with the American people."
A few Republicans immediately distanced themselves, particularly those in tight races.
Linda McMahon, the Republican Senate candidate in Connecticut, quickly disavowed Romney's remarks as her opponent, Rep. Chris Murphy, sought to tie her to Romney, releasing a statement talking about "the real McMahon-Romney agenda."
"I disagree with Gov. Romney's insinuation that 47 percent of Americans believe they are victims who must depend on the government for their care," said McMahon, who has narrowed the race to succeed retiring independent Joe Lieberman. "I know that the vast majority of those who rely on government are not in that situation because they want to be."
Massachusetts Sen. Scott Brown, facing a tough reelection fight against Democrat Elizabeth Warren, also quickly backed away from Romney: "That's not the way I view the world," he said.
Romney sent a ripple down-ballot when a secretly recorded video surfaced Monday of his remarks at a fundraiser in Boca Raton, Fla. on May 17.
"There are 47 percent of the people who will vote for the president no matter what," Romney says in the video. "There are 47 percent who are with him, who are dependent upon government, who believe that they are victims, who believe that 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."
"My job is not to worry about those people," Romney added. "I'll never convince them they should take personal responsibility and care for their lives."
Romney has neither disavowed nor apologized for his remarks, instead casting his comment as evidence of a fundamental difference with President Barack Obama over the economy. The federal government, he said, should not "take from some to give to the others."
But the pile-on had begun, bolstering Obama's case that Romney does not represent a middle class struggling amid high unemployment and a sluggish economy.
Democratic candidates took their lead from Obama, who declared Tuesday night that the occupant of the Oval Office must "work for everyone, not just for some."
Democratic candidates already were using Romney's statements — made to a room of wealthy donors at a private fundraiser — to raise campaign cash.
The campaign of Lois Frankel, seeking an open House seat in a district that includes Boca Raton, Fla., blasted an email to supporters under the subject line "Seriously?" It asked recipients to donate because "the same people who saw Mitt behind closed doors right here in Boca" are planning to fund attack ads.
House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi said Wednesday that Romney's comment "clearly differentiates" him from Obama and said that "even Republicans disagree with the idea."
The California Democrat said in an interview on NBC's "Today" show that what Romney said "was disparaging to our whole system." She said he included in his statement people on Social Security and Medicare who "have paid into" the system.
Take Rep. Tammy Baldwin, the Democrat seeking Wisconsin's open Senate seat, who is running against former governor and Health and Human Services Secretary Tommy Thompson.
"The fact that Mitt Romney said behind closed doors that he doesn't care about half the people of this country reveals who he is and what he believes," Baldwin said.