WASHINGTON (AP) - Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney said Wednesday that he's "not concerned about the very poor" because they have an "ample safety net" and he's focused instead on relieving the suffering of middle-class people hit hard by the bad economy.
In comments that quickly became fodder for his critics, Romney emphasized, "You can focus on the very poor, that's not my focus."
He raised the subject of the poor in a CNN interview marking his big win in Florida's GOP primary Tuesday night, a major step toward becoming the party's challenger to President Barack Obama in the fall. A multimillionaire former venture capitalist, Romney has been criticized by Democrats and his Republican rivals alike for earlier remarks they considered insensitive. He once said "I like being able to fire people" and declared that he knew what it was like to worry about being "pink-slipped" out of a job.
Obama's re-election campaign was quick to pick up on Romney's reference to the poor. "So much for 'we're all in this together,'" tweeted Obama campaign manager Jim Messina.
Answering questions from reporters on his campaign plane headed to Minnesota, the former Massachusetts governor offered a clarification, saying his comments were consistent with his theme throughout the race. "My energy is going to be devoted to helping middle-income people," he said.
Speaking earlier to CNN, Romney said: "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."
Asked whether his comment about the poor might come across as odd to them, Romney reiterated.
"We will hear from the Democrat party the plight of the poor and there's no question, it's not good being poor, and we have a safety net to help those that are very poor," Romney said, adding that he's more worried about the unemployed, people living on Social Security and those struggling to send their kids to college.
"We have a very ample safety net and we can talk about whether it needs to be strengthened or whether there are holes in it. But we have food stamps, we have Medicaid, we have housing vouchers, we have programs to help the poor," Romney said. "But the middle-income Americans, they're the folks that are really struggling right now."
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