* Republican tries to turn missteps to advantage
* Trails Obama by 5 points in Reuters/Ipsos poll
* Republicans fear candidate may not recover
By Steve Holland
ATLANTA, Sept 19 (Reuters) - Mitt Romney said on Wednesday he would do a better job of helping the poor than President Barack Obama as the Republican tried to recover from a secret video that showed him dismissing nearly half the electorate as dependent on government help.
Romney has sought to make the Nov. 6 election a referendum on Obama's economic stewardship, but over the past week the spotlight has been fixed firmly on his own missteps - most recently a video that shows him writing off Obama supporters.
Romney hopes to recover by framing the presidential election as a choice between big government and economic growth. At an Atlanta fundraiser, Romney said he wants to spur job creation by encouraging private enterprise.
"The question in this campaign is not who cares about the poor and the middle class. I do, he does," Romney said, jabbing the podium with his index finger and his voice rising with emotion.
"The question is who can help the poor and the middle class. I can, he can't and he's proven it in four years," he said.
Romney's campaign argues that Obama has presided over a stagnant economy, forcing more Americans to rely on food stamps and other government assistance.
The video, recorded in May at a luxurious Florida home, shows Romney telling wealthy campaign donors that 47 percent of Americans will back Obama no matter what. "I'll never convince them they should take personal responsibility and care for their lives," he says.
The remarks fed into a perception that multimillionaire Romney has battled throughout the campaign: that he is insensitive to the struggles of less-wealthy Americans. They drew condemnation from Democrats and an array of Republicans, including congressional candidates and conservative columnists.
In an apparent attempt to deflect attention from the video, Republicans are pointing to a recording that surfaced this week of Obama discussing his belief in "a certain level" of wealth distribution.
"Mitt Romney and I are not running to redistribute the wealth. Mitt Romney and I are running to help Americans create wealth," Romney's vice-presidential running mate Paul Ryan said at a campaign event in Danville, Virginia.
Romney had hoped to spend the week fleshing out his plan to bolster the economy until the video went viral on Monday and pushed the campaign into damage-control mode. It came on the heels of a Politico report about dysfunction in his campaign and a statement on strife in the Middle East that was widely criticized as unstatesmanlike.
Republicans worry that their presidential candidate may not be able to recover in the seven weeks before the election.
"There is a broad and growing feeling now, among Republicans, that this thing is slipping out of Romney's hands," Wall Street Journal editorial writer Peggy Noonan wrote in a blog post. "It's time to admit the Romney campaign is an incompetent one."
A Reuters/Ipsos daily tracking poll showed Obama leading Romney 48 percent to 43 percent among likely voters. Among all registered voters, Obama led 49 percent to 38 percent.
Romney already faced a more difficult path to victory as he can count on fewer sure wins among the 51 state contests that determine the outcome of the election. Across the handful of states that remain competitive, Obama holds an advantage of 48 percent to 46 percent, according to a USA Today/Gallup poll.
Most polls have yet to reflect fallout from Romney's comments, which were released by the liberal magazine Mother Jones.
In the video, Romney gave voice to a conservative preoccupation that the expansion of income-tax breaks and the growing reach of government benefit programs risk dividing the country into "makers" and "takers."
Romney lumped all Obama supporters into the latter group.
Romney was referring to the 46 percent of U.S. households that paid no income taxes last year and the 49 percent that received some form of government benefit, from housing assistance to Social Security pensions. Those two groups include many Republican voters whose support Romney will need to win the White House.
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"That's not the way I view the world. 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," Scott said in an email to <a href="http://thehill.com/blogs/ballot-box/senate-races/250157-sen-scott-brown-denounces-romney-comments" target="_hplink">The Hill</a>.
"He was obviously inarticulate in making this point," Ryan <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/09/18/paul-ryan-mitt-romney-video_n_1895403.html" target="_hplink">said</a> during an interview with a Nevada television station.
"This could be the opportunity for Romney, and for that campaign, to finally take the gloves off and take the fear off and just start explaining conservatism, start explaining liberty to people and what it means," <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/09/18/rush-limbaugh-mitt-romney_n_1893882.html" target="_hplink">Limbaugh said</a> Tuesday. "And explain that they don't need to be in that 47 percent. There's no reason for them, for everybody to be -- essentially having given up on their future in this country. There's no reason for it. This is, to me, such an opportunity to espouse conservatism."
"Mitt Romney probably could have better explained himself. I think he was a little clumsy in doing this," <a href="http://thehill.com/video/house/249975-rep-allen-west-romney-a-little-clumsy-with-47-percent-comment" target="_hplink">West said</a> on Fox News.
"Sure, there are some government programs that cultivate patterns of dependency in some people. I'd put federal disability payments and unemployment insurance in this category. But, as a description of America today, Romney's comment is a country-club fantasy. It's what self-satisfied millionaires say to each other. It reinforces every negative view people have about Romney," <a href="http://www.nytimes.com/2012/09/18/opinion/brooks-thurston-howell-romney.html?ref=davidbrooks" target="_hplink">Brooks wrote</a>. "He's running a depressingly inept presidential campaign. Mr. Romney, your entitlement reform ideas are essential, but when will the incompetence stop?"
"It remains important for the country that Romney wins in November (unless he chooses to step down and we get the Ryan-Rubio ticket we deserve!). But that shouldn't blind us to the fact that Romney's comments, like those of Obama four years ago, are stupid and arrogant," <a href="http://www.weeklystandard.com/blogs/note-romney-s-arrogant-and-stupid-remarks_652548.html" target="_hplink">Kristol wrote</a>.
"He has to not apologize, because we've seen enough apologizing already, and he cannot apologize," <a href="http://thehill.com/video/campaign/249993-trump-romney-cannot-apologize-for-inartful-comments-at-fundraiser" target="_hplink">Trump said</a> on NBC News. "What he said is probably what he means." Trump also said that Romney's words were "inartfully stated."
"The Romney campaign should double down on what he said. They should own it. The trouble for the left and media (but I repeat myself) is that most Americans agree with Mitt Romney. Most Americans consider themselves part of the 53% and it is not a winning proposition for Barack Obama to convince Americans they are less than they think they are when most Americans already recognize he has made them less than they were," <a href="http://www.redstate.com/2012/09/17/treat-the-press-as-enemy-collaborators/" target="_hplink">Erickson wrote</a> in a blog post on RedState.com.
"[Romney] believes that every American has got to have skin in the game...he doesn't want what the president wants," <a href="http://www.politico.com/blogs/burns-haberman/2012/09/christie-romney-wants-to-empower-people-135893.html" target="_hplink">Christie said</a> on Fox News, adding that Romney wants to "empower individuals...and that's what he's really talking about."
"The idea that you're declaring, 'Well, the race is over. Mitt Romney doesn't care about people,'" <a href="http://www.mediaite.com/tv/laura-ingraham-fired-up-over-romneys-47-tape-its-ridiculous-this-is-getting-airtime/" target="_hplink">Ingraham said </a>on Fox News. "Meanwhile, you have a president whose policies have undermined the 47 percent. ... I'm very pumped up about this. I think it's ridiculous that people are seizing on it and that we're even giving all that much airtime to it, frankly."
"I disagree with Governor Romney's insinuation that 47% of Americans believe they are victims who must depend on the government for their care. I know that the vast majority of those who rely on government are not in that situation because they want to be. People today are struggling because the government has failed to keep America competitive, failed to support job creators, and failed to get our economy back on track," <a href="http://www.lindaforsenate2012.com/news/press-releases/2012/09/18/linda-mcmahon-response-to-mitt-romneys-remarks/" target="_hplink">McMahon said</a> in a statement.
"To read many of the reactions on Twitter, you'd think Mother Jones had just found video of Mitt Romney strangling a hooker with her own pantyhose," <a href="http://www.nationalreview.com/corner/322394/quick-thoughts-freeloaderdammerung-jonah-goldberg" target="_hplink">Goldberg wrote</a>. "Indeed, many people understand what Romney is getting at here, even if he's saying it badly."