Mitt Romney said Wednesday that his new tax plan wouldn’t help the “top 1 percent.”

“I’m going to limit the deductions and exemptions particularly for the higher-income folks,” the GOP presidential candidate said at a campaign stop in Mesa, Ariz. “For high-income folks, we’re going to cut back on that, so that we ensure that the top 1 percent keeps paying the current share they’re paying and more.”*

Mitt Romney greets supporters at a town hall meeting at Eagle Manufacturing Corporation in Shelby Township, Mich. (Gerald Herbert/AP)

Romney is trying to dispel the notion — reinforced by some gaffes and some nudging by Democrats — that he is out of touch with the concerns of middle-class Americans. At the same time, he wants to create buzz for a flailing campaign with a popular gambit: across-the-board tax cuts.

The result is a somewhat confusing message, one that Romney will have to work at selling as his campaign struggles.

Romney has repeatedly argued that he is not worried about the “very rich” and that his tax plan will actually hit the wealthiest Americans harder than the proposals of rival and former House speaker Newt Gingrich.

Now, though, he’s apparently taking a page from the Occupy Wall Street movement — suggesting not only that the rich are fine but that they could possibly take a higher share of the burden.

Why is he doing this now?

Maybe he’s seen the polls.

In the latest New York Times/CBS News poll, 53 percent of registered voters said they think Romney’s policies favor the rich, while only 11 percent said they favor the middle class. Also, only 39 percent think he understands the problems of average Americans, and the early contests have shown that the less money a primary voter makes, the less likely he or she will vote for Romney.

So, Romney is adopting a harsher — or at least less friendly — tone toward wealthy taxpayers than his previous “corporations are people” rhetoric.

Whether Romney’s plan matches his new rhetoric is unclear. Even as he tries to appeal to lower-income voters, he needs a plan that pleases economic conservatives. To that end, candidates Gingrich and former Pennsylvania senator Rick Santorum have both proposed flatter tax plans.

Under Romney’s proposal, the top personal income tax rate would fall from 35 percent to 28 percent, and the corporate tax rate would drop from 35 percent to 25 percent. As in previous proposals, Romney would eliminate the estate tax.

According to the Tax Policy Center, the new plan would give the average American in the top 1 percent an $86,535 tax cut.

The press release sent out by the Romney campaign does not detail or explain what changes could potentially raise taxes on the wealthy. Romney told reporters that he would ask Congress to make up for lost revenue by banning deductions and loopholes with a focus on the wealthiest Americans — leaving those tough decisions to lawmakers.

Economist Dean Baker of the Center for Economic and Policy Research said that making Congress do the hard part wouldn’t fly. Lawmakers would never eliminate all of the available tax deductions, he argued, and even if they did, for the wealthiest Americans the tax cuts would still be more valuable.

"It's almost inconceivable if you're lowering the top rate that you'd
make that up with getting rid of tax deductions," he said.

Expect Romney to be asked about the specifics at Wednesday night’s Republican primary debate and in the coming days.

* This quote has been corrected.