For Democrats and their incumbent leader racing to re-election, it couldn’t get any better than this. It was the gaffe heard around the world. An unapologetically progressive Mother Jones magazine was more than happy to post it for all to see, an uncut and chalkboard-scratching videotape of Republican nominee Mitt Romney talking to a group of high rolling wealthy funders in Boca Raton, Fla.
Observers from longtime political junkies and strategists to casual couch quarterbacks flipping through cable channels seemed transfixed on an unusual moment of transparency for the candidate. Previously, glimpses into Romney World behind the perfectly gelled hair were limited to orchestrated family photos of lakeside vacationing on jet skis.
An unknown source caught the candidate unscripted, talking openly and rather comfortably before a sympathetic audience of one percenters enjoying their $50,000 dinner.
“There are 47 percent of the people who will vote for the president no matter what,” said Romney. “All right, there are 47 percent who are with him, 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's an entitlement. And the government should give it to them. And they will vote for this president no matter what.”
Over the past week, the reactions from partisans on both sides of the aisle were fierce and bloody. Democrats were seizing the newfound video as an opportunity to kick the Republican while he was down, still reeling from over two weeks of stumbles from Clint Eastwood’s infamous empty chair performance to Romney’s own failed “3 a.m. call” test in the wake of Middle East tensions.
"The middle class in America is getting a clearer and clearer picture that the Democratic Party is on their side and the Republican Party is not,” House Minority Whip Steny Hoyer (D-MD) told The Hill. “As a result, it's going to be helpful to our congressional races, to our Senate races and clearly to the presidential race.”
Even Republicans jumped in, piling on their nominee out of fear of what his comments could mean for their chances down-ballot during the election. A parade of GOP House and Senate candidates appeared to distance themselves from the party standard-bearer, with races once in their sights suddenly getting blurred and competitive. "That’s not the way I view the world,” Massachusetts GOP Senator Scott Brown revealed in an email to The Hill, struggling to fend off a spirited challenge from Democratic nominee Elizabeth Warren. “As someone who grew up in tough circumstances, I know that being on public assistance is not a spot that anyone wants to be in. Too many people today who want to work are being forced into public assistance for lack of jobs.”
President Obama’s reaction was measured, but pointed. “My thinking is maybe you haven’t gotten around a lot. American people are the hardest working people I know,” said the president.
Still, the big question insiders want to know is what this new tipping point in the race will actually do to Team Romney as Nov. 6 edges closer. Are Democrats really justified in their glee? Or, should they still be worried about the unknowns: the draining effect Voter ID laws in 30 states will have on the Democratic base, and the specter of political maestro Karl Rove along with a shadowy army of pro-Romney Super PACs raising untold sums of cash.
Hiram College’s Jason Johnson seems to think it’s a wrap. “Yeah, sooooo …. Romney’s pretty much done after this,” quipped Johnson in a random text to The Tribune.
“Democrats really need to take it down a notch,” gloated one well-placed Democratic strategist lamenting what he called “premature elect-elation.”
Independent Florida political activist Monica Betts also reveals a bit of nervousness, looking back on her state’s run-ins with hanging chads and cliffhanger elections. “His remarks are somewhat troubling,” Betts tells The Tribune. “The advantage that Romney has at this point is that fact that African Americans don't vote as they should — leaving Democrats to court Hispanic and Asian voters. The Democrats are aware that they have the majority of the African American votes, but are afraid that the votes won't be enough to win it all. After all, it's all about the Electoral College and how the swing states are moving. Hopefully, this won't be a replay of the Bush-Gore factor.”
Johnson, however, is a bit more optimistic about the president’s chances. “Democrats are perpetually nervous, but I can’t imagine them getting complacent,” said Johnson. “I never thought it’d be anything less than tight. But now I’m pretty convinced Romney won’t be able to gut it out unless he gets a perfect storm. His personal ratings have taken such a hit.”
“When GOP guys are publicly calling him out, it’s a bad sign.”
Still, conservative commentator and TownHall.com Editor Guy Benson thinks the hoopla over Romney’s flub is just that: hoopla.
“The idea that Romney is toast because of this four month old video is way overblown,” counters Benson. “Seems like every week the media decides that Romney does or says something that essentially ends the campaign. That he shot himself in the foot and he has inflicted some sort of fatal blow. And when things emerge that that’s not the case, we move on to the next week.”