In the two weeks since a surreptitious video of the remarks surfaced, they have pierced the national consciousness in a way that few blunders do. In the closing stretch of the presidential campaign, the moment has become a defining element of Romney’s candidacy.
And on Wednesday, the 47 percent issue is likely to come to the fore in an even more pronounced way, during the first presidential debate. Romney’s advisers — who acknowledge that the moment has hurt the Republican nominee among independent voters in battleground states — said he has rehearsed debate answers in which he argues that he is for “the 100 percent” and that his policy prescriptions would help the growing number of Americans under Obama’s presidency who are struggling to find work or living on food stamps.
“We wouldn’t be surprised, obviously, if that came up in the debate, and the governor’s prepared, obviously, to respond to that,” senior adviser Ed Gillespie told reporters Monday. “We believe the voters will see and appreciate the fact that what Governor Romney’s talking about would improve the quality of life for 100 percent of Americans.”
Ticking through a slew of economic statistics that make up the Republican indictment of Obama, Gillespie previewed Romney’s message: that he is running to help the 23 million Americans who are struggling to get jobs, the one in six who find themselves in poverty, the additional 15 million now relying on food stamps and the 50 percent of college graduates who can’t find employment.
But before Romney has a chance to say all that, his “47 percent” has already taken a toll, strategists in both parties said. The comments go to the heart of the way Obama is trying to define the race: not as a referendum on his stewardship of the economy, but as a choice between a president who fights for the middle class and a candidate who fights for the few.
“The Obama guys are pouring the coals on this on TV and driving it,” Republican strategist Alex Castellanos said. “You inform with reason, and you persuade with emotion. They’ve made the rational case that Romney’s policies would hurt the middle class, and this is the emotional counterpart.”
Castellanos, who advised Romney’s 2008 campaign but is not affiliated with his current one, said there is reason for the Republican’s team to be alarmed. “The only thing in politics that is worse than voters deciding that they don’t like you is when voters decide you don’t like them,” he said.