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47 Percenter: Romney 'Eliminated Us Altogether'

John Rudolf   |   September 19, 2012    6:51 PM ET

CAMDEN, N.J. -- Sandra Johnson pays no federal income tax and relies on a monthly Social Security disability check and food stamps to make ends meet.

But she bristled at comments by Mitt Romney -- secretly filmed at a fundraiser and leaked to the media this week -- calling people like her members of an entitlement-addicted underclass who will vote for President Barack Obama "no matter what" to keep government benefits flowing their way.

Johnson, 62, noted that the her government assistance comes only after a lifetime of steady labor.

"It's not the government's money. It's my money," she said. "I worked and I earned it. I paid in enough years to get these benefits."

She called Romney's remarks, which she heard on the morning news, unfair and demeaning.

"As big as his head seems to be, his words are very small," Johnson said. "He is trying to divide the people. I thought we were supposed to be equal."

Johnson began her working life as a cashier at a dry cleaning shop at age 16. She spent 25 years as a preschool teacher at a private school in Camden, then ran her own daycare business for 10 years. Two years ago, she applied for federal disability benefits after developing arthritis in her knees and suffering a relapse of breast cancer that required a double mastectomy.

Today, Johnson works about 20 hours a week at non-profit that helps older teenagers and young adults who have dropped out of high school to obtain a high school diploma, earning about $500 per month after payroll tax deductions. That income is supplemented by a $990 monthly disability check. She also receives food stamps worth $16 per month.

"I consider myself a working person," Johnson said. "I am still working, helping these young people get where they need to go."

Johnson supported Obama in 2008 and said she planned to vote for him again, but not because she expects anything in return. "In 2008, I was not getting anything," she said. "I was working and paying in."

She watched Romney's convention speech and called him an effective speaker. But now she feels sure the speech was not intended for people of modest means like herself.

"He's eliminated us altogether," she said. "He doesn't need our votes."

47 Percenter: "We're Helping Keep Our Communities Vibrant"

Saki Knafo   |   September 19, 2012    4:34 PM ET

Four years ago, then-17-year-old David Gilbert-Pederson made headlines as the youngest delegate at the Democratic National Convention. Time Magazine published a picture of him in an Obama shirt and a backwards baseball cap, and a Minnesota blog went with a photo of him standing in a sideways half-hug with the Democratic candidate, a huge grin plastered to his boyish face.

Like so many of the other young people who helped President Barack Obama win his first term as president, Gilbert-Pederson isn't quite the fan that he once was, and he took exception to Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney's recent assertion that 47 percent of the country is going to vote for Obama "no matter what." Although Gilbert-Pederson makes a salary small enough to qualify him as part of the 47 percent of Americans who don't pay income taxes, he didn't plan on voting for Obama until just a few weeks ago. Romney's performance at the Republican National Convention convinced him that a Romney presidency would be bad news for the country, and specifically for his family.

Gilbert-Pederson, now a 21-year-old activist, has a cousin who suffers from cerebral palsy. While watching Romney at the convention, he began to harbor doubts that Romney would keep Medicare afloat. In recent years, Gilbert-Pederson had considered voting for a third-party candidate, but he ultimately decided not to take any chances.

Gilbert-Pederson earns 800 dollars a month working for a community organization in Minnesota that helps underwater homeowners negotiate with mortgage lenders. Although Romney suggested that Americans who make that kind of money generally don't work very hard, Gilbert-Pederson says he works between eight and 10 hours a day. Yesterday, he put in 11 hours, he said.

At some point, he'd like to make more money, Gilbert-Pederson said. But for now, his current pay is enough to cover rent and basic needs. Gilbert-Pederson's employer is Occupy Our Homes MN, which grew out of the local Occupy movement. The group is largely driven by volunteers and homeowners who are fighting foreclosure, though it offers a small stipend to a handful of full-time organizers. So far, Occupy Our Homes MN says it has helped around six people stay in their homes, and some of those efforts have garnered widespread attention. Gilbert-Pederson is helping the group develop a database to keep better track of its supporters.

Gilbert-Pederson noted that he doesn't depend on government help. He gets healthcare through his parents, a librarian and an educator, and he doesn't receive food stamps, unemployment, or any other safety-net benefits. "Whereas some of Romney's big-business contributors have received government money from federal bailouts, and they've received tax breaks, some of the people who don't pay income taxes are doing things to enhance our communities," Gilbert-Pederson said. "We're helping keep our communities vibrant."

47 Percenter On Single Motherhood: 'Sometimes You Do Need Help'

Catherine Pearson   |   September 19, 2012    3:45 PM ET

Mitt Romney told contributors at a private fundraiser in May that women are open to supporting him and that he can "capture women's votes" -- but Janelle Matous' won't be one of them.

The single mother, 30, has a 4-year-old son and is a full-time student studying photojournalism at the University of Texas, where she maintains a 3.7 GPA. She also works 20 hours a week at a non-profit, earning $18,000 a year.

With loans and grants, her annual income is just around $22,000. Each month, $900 of that goes straight to her rent. That, she said, is what it costs to live in a neighborhood where she feels safe as a single woman and where she doesn't have to spend too much money on gas getting to and from work and shuttling her son around.

Matous said she pays Social Security and Medicare payroll taxes, but does not pay income tax. She also gets government help with day care expenses, an earned income credit, and is able write off certain expenses, such as her school books.

She does not think she should have to apologize for any of this.

"It's not as easy as everyone makes it seem to support yourself in today's economy, and sometimes you do need help with things," Matous told The Huffington Post.

"It was probably the thing that really pissed me off the most about [the video] was this feeling that everything I'm working for, everything that I'm doing is not good enough in some way." she said. "I don't consider myself a victim. I don't."

What upset her most about Romney's remarks is the suggestion that, as a 47 percenter, she isn't taking personal responsibility for her life.

"My job is not to worry about those people," Romney said. "I'll never convince them that they should take personal responsibility and care for for their lives."

But Matous said her daily schedule is grueling. She gets up at 6 a.m., makes breakfast, packs lunch and gets her son to school. She spends the day in an office or classroom and the evening spending time with her son, cleaning her house and trying to keep her "sanity in check." After her son falls asleep, Matous does homework until it's time for bed.

"I'm sorry that I got myself in this predicament, whatever you want to say about it," she said. "But, here I am. And I'm trying to get out of it."

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47 Percenter: Romney's Right, But Needs Better Numbers

Arthur Delaney   |   September 19, 2012    1:31 PM ET

Richard Wood thinks Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney is correct that a broad swath of Americans is dependent on government and devoid of personal responsibility, but maybe not as broad a swath as Romney suggested.

"He needs to get better numbers, but he needs to hit on it because that's one of the problems with this country," said Wood, who is 63 and lives in Bradenton, Fla.

In a video released this week of Romney speaking at a campaign fundraiser in May, the former Massachusetts governor told donors that 47 percent of the country won't vote for him because they'd rather rely on President Barack Obama's administration for handouts.

"Forty-seven percent of Americans pay no income tax, so our message of low taxes doesn't connect," Romney said in the video. "I'll never convince them that they should take personal responsibility and care for their lives."

Romney's comments are a mashup of two common conservative complaints, one that nearly half of the country does not pay federal income taxes, and the other that half of the country receives some type of government benefit, such as Social Security, Medicare, or unemployment insurance. Both numbers have been inflated recently by the Great Recession and its endless aftermath.

Wood knows Romney needs better numbers for his message because he is a Romney supporter, yet he is also member of the 47 percent: Wood receives Social Security and has not paid income taxes since his title insurance business tanked years ago.

Wood even met with the candidate earlier this year, at a roundtable in Tampa where Romney listened to Wood's troubles and encouraged him to use the government's safety net by filing for bankruptcy.

The controversy over Romney's remarks, according to Wood, is "just another diversion so the Obama press doesn't have to talk about his record."

Another part of Romney's comments, in which he lamented Americans "who believe that they are victims, who believe that government has a responsibility to care for them," suggested to Wood that the candidate had in mind a narrower population than simply everyone not paying taxes or receiving benefits. Wood said he thinks Romney meant the type of people who get free meals at Wood's church every week.

"A number of the people I feed breakfast to on Thursday morning are just happy to get free cellphones and government checks and they're sleeping outside," Wood said. Asked what percentage of the country might share the victim mentality, Wood ventured 20 or 30 percent. "I think it's an increasing number," he said.

Combat Wounded And Veterans Not The Freeloaders Romney Suggested

David Wood   |   September 19, 2012    1:09 PM ET

bobby henline veteran

Bobby Henline does standup comedy.

Luana Schneider is not a freeloader.

Bobby Henline isn't dependent on government either, even though he received free medical care after he was catastrophically burned in a bomb blast in Iraq and -- like other severely wounded combat veterans -- received a tax-free $100,000 insurance payout from Uncle Sam.

Few Americans receive as much from government as the combat wounded. Their military medical care, from treatment on the dusty battlefield to the exquisitely meticulous surgery and rehabilitation care, is given on a damn-the-cost basis. The Department of Veterans Affairs insurance program pays out a maximum of $100,000 for severe wounds, in addition to disability payments and other assistance.

Such largesse seems to be precisely the thing that bleeds away Americans' personal responsibility and "fosters government dependency," according to GOP presidential nominee Mitt Romney.

But that view is out of whack with the reality of many of the severely wounded, and other veterans and their families.

Although Romney later asserted that he was not referring to veterans or the military, it seems wildly inaccurate to suggest, as he did in a video recorded at a fundraiser in May, that those who take from the government believe they are "victims" and "take no personal responsibility for their lives" because they pay no income taxes.

True, the 68,000 U.S. troops serving in Afghanistan today pay no taxes on their monthly pay (for officers, combat-zone pay is tax-exempt up to $7,834 per month). Troops at war also pay no taxes on the Family Separation Pay ($250 a month) and Imminent Danger Pay ($225 a month) they receive while in the war zone.

Romney's remarks "made me upset," said Tyler Fultz, 27, who served with the Air Force in Iraq in 2009 and 2010 and now lives in Fort Worth, Texas. "He's dismissing half the population as being dependent on the government and for essentially being lazy. I do not consider myself one of those. I think that when he made those comments he didn't realize the groups of people he was including in that 47 percent and veterans are one of those groups."

The notion that taking government handouts breeds sloth and dependence is belied by Bobby Henline. Like others who have narrowly escaped death, he has attacked his post-war life with energy and zeal, as if not to waste a second. He has struggled to overcome his severe burns, the loss of his left hand and other devastating injuries and has become a stand-up comic, working to raise awareness of burn victims.

"There are some I guess who just sit around," said Henline, the only one of five paratroopers who survived the flaming wreckage after their Humvee hit an IED in Iraq in 2007. Financially, given his disability payments, he could afford not to work for the rest of his life, Henline told The Huffington Post. "But the guys we lost out there, I felt like if I sat around and felt sorry for myself, they would have died in vain. It's important to keep going, for them, for my family.

"I've learned that no matter how bad life gets, you can continue on. I've learned that I can help others, inspire them to live their lives to the fullest -- even if you are disfigured."

That same ethic inspires many military families who, despite the support they receive from the government, hardly become craven dependents.

Six years ago, Luana Schneider learned in a phone call that her son Scott Stephenson, a paratrooper, had been blown up in a flaming bomb blast in Iraq and lay dying of massive wounds and extensive burns. Schneider's previous life as an interior decorator and mother of six evaporated. As doctors fought to save her son's life, she became fixed on a single goal: if he lived, she would dedicate her life to his care.

Miraculously, Stephenson lived. Schneider learned to change his dressings, an hours-long ordeal each day. For four years she managed his multiple medications, soothed him through dozens of surgeries. Wiped his bottom. Held him naked in the shower, gently soaping his scarred body.

Six years after he was critically wounded, Stephenson is doing well. He's walking on his prosthetic leg, and coping with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder and Traumatic Brain Injury. He got his $100,000 insurance payment, meant to cover a lifetime of being unemployable. And he gets Social Security and $200 a month in combat disability payments from the VA.

And Schneider remains his primary, full-time caregiver, a role recently recognized by the Department of Veterans Affairs as an actual job. With prodding from Congress, the VA has begun training -- and paying -- caregivers.

In February, Schneider began receiving $1,600 a month from the VA, a salary based on a 40-hour work week which, she says, is ridiculous given that she spends easily twice that time caring for her son.

Does that make her hapless ward of the state? Hardly. "I would fight tooth and nail to the death to make sure my son is covered by the government," she told The Huffington Post. "He cannot function and that is not his fault."

In an interview with The Huffington Post last year, she explained her approach to the Pentagon and the VA this way:

"I am a bitch and that is my child and you owe my child respect. I gave him to the Army in the best physical condition of his life, and they gave him back to me in pieces. You will take care of him or I will know why and I will do something about it and I will be rude."

The VA doesn't disagree that veterans have earned their benefits, even if they don't pay taxes. This year veterans will get $76.3 billion in entitlement payments, including disability compensation and GI bill education assistance -- all tax-free.

More than 8.5 million veterans currently get health care through the VA -- an untaxed benefit -- and 3.5 million vets are receiving untaxed disability payments, according to VA budget documents. The VA is paying to house homeless veterans at a cost of $1.3 billion. Veterans are currently receiving mental health benefits worth $6.2 billion.

"I don't think anyone would consider that wasteful spending or that anyone is leeching off the system," said Paul Rieckhoff, who served in Iraq as an infantry platoon leader before founding the Iraq Afghanistan Veterans of America, a nonpartisan organization to support veterans.

Thanks to the GI bill, for instance, over 700,000 troops who served in Iraq or Afghanistan have gotten tax-free grants to help pay for tuition and books and go back to school, and thousands are entering college this month, he said. Far from creating a culture of relying on government hand-outs, "It's a really good return for the American taxpayers," he said.

"I don't know too many vets who are living in Beverly Hills on their VA benefits."

College Students To Mitt Romney: We're Not Victims

Tyler Kingkade   |   September 19, 2012   10:47 AM ET

Before Ashley Conover's fall semester started at Georgetown College in Kentucky, she spent the summer working full-time in a Heinz factory as a machine operator. Now that Conover is back on campus, the 19-year-old college sophomore works part-time in the on-campus career center as a student coordinator on top of her full-time class schedule.

Those jobs provide Conover with "a little bit of money," she said, though she is really only able to attend college because of scholarships and the federal Pell Grant. But she's not happy about GOP presidential nominee Mitt Romney saying people like her -- who are exempt from federal income taxes and receive government benefits -- believe they are "victims."

Recent video released by Mother Jones shows Romney claiming 47 percent of Americans are supporters of President Obama because they are people "who are dependent upon government, who believe that they are victims, who believe the government has a responsibility to care for them." Romney went on to state he could never get that 47 percent to "take personal responsibility and care for their lives.”

"We're not victims," Conover said. "It's not like those 47 percent are never going to be paying taxes."

According to the Tax Policy Center, 46.4 percent of U.S. households paid no federal income tax in 2011. However, two-thirds of those households still paid federal payroll taxes, which pay into Social Security and Medicare; and this doesn't begin to factor in state and local taxes, such as sales, gas and property taxes.

Of those exempt from federal income taxes are many college students, either because they don't make enough in their side jobs to enter the lowest taxable income bracket, or because tax credits for their pursuit of higher education qualify them.

Romney, for his part, did not use federal assistance to get through school, relying in part on the sale of stock given to him by his father.

"I don't think I can connect with Romney," Conover said. "I mean, I know he created his own business, [but] he's never had to be in our situation."

Several college students who spoke with The Huffington Post expressed outrage over Romney's comments, and said they didn't appreciate being singled out as if they were moochers.

Philip Belcastro, 25, is one of the 150 million Americans who live in a household that receives some type of government benefit.

"If it wasn't for unused student loan money and Pell Grant disbursement, as well as federal tax refund, I would be living paycheck to paycheck all year round and likely unable to afford gas to commute to school," said Belcastro, who's taking classes at Valencia College in Orlando, Fla., and hopes one day to become a teacher.

Yet, that government assistance doesn't make things easy for Belcastro. In addition to classes, he works 30 hours a week for "little more than minimum wage," and he worries about paying back his students loans once he obtains his bachelor's degree.

"I find it staggering to be included in a sweeping generalization that asserts that I am a victim," said Malorie Brooke Bennett, who attends Boise State University in Idaho. "Since when is juggling a job, classes, homework and also attempting to be a well-rounded individual through socialization and community outreach looked at as being so negative?"

While Romney's statements made in the video are causing a stir, they actually aren't significantly different than what some Republicans have been saying for at least a year.

No matter who is saying it, though, college students contacted by HuffPost objected to being labeled as "freeloaders."

"I don't feel like a freeloader when I get a full government refund," said LaKendra Johnson, a second-year master's student in Clinical Mental Health Counseling at Ohio University. "Quite the opposite, it causes me a lot of anxiety!"

Johnson used a mix of federal grants and student loans to pay for school. For extra money, Johnson currently works as a graduate assistant in a program that provides counseling for sexual assault survivors. She has also been a Jimmy John's driver, and while in college worked as a cashier at Buffalo Wild Wings and Old Navy.

The money she got back from the government was used to cover bills outside of her tuition, like rent, food and books. But Johnson said she knows after graduation in May, she'll hear from "someone who'll want the balance of that refund -- and [then] some," referring to student loan payments.

"If it is true in his eyes that they are in fact victims, what would he do to change this?" asked Adam Hill, a student at the University of New Hampshire. "It appears Mr. Romney would like to pick and choose whom he cares for, were he to be elected president of the United States."

Hill doesn't believe Romney's remarks were a gaffe. Instead, he said, "We now have a glimpse of Romney's true character."

Dear 47 Percent

Anis Shivani   |   September 19, 2012   10:24 AM ET

Dear 47 Percent

i am behind closed doors seeking rapprochement
eating your flavors drinking your spirits
you made a run last year between here and San Francisco and i was there
to catch your fall
lonely is the path to accountancy
the mind rebels dependency sells papers
notional news all the harrumphing of collection
sitting in tense positions across the table
we meet and greet brothers of the hollow Christopher science --
o why bother
yellow penance has climbed into unfilled tax returns
my mind is an unfilled tax return
i waited ten years -- or was it fifty-three -- to turn sixty-seven
and collect
something of the ardor of taxpayers
i do pay taxes
sometimes in acrostics
bright pouring birds
any silence of twilight
hurt vocabulary
chinese patterns
seneca waterfalls
i pay taxes on goofy unargumentative pieces of chicken thought
and yellow i was dependent no getting away from that
hence contemplation of the bridge to being alone with Kafka
i am masses of education
clusters of fumigation
beheaded passive household
are you there
forty-seven times i've called my name
paper this paper
paper weighs more than lives and my bright freshman calculations about money and such
i am forty-seven times a loser
in that grotto of overdetermination

Anis Shivani's debut book of poetry is My Tranquil War and Other Poems (NYQ Books, Sept. 7, 2012). His other books are The Fifth Lash and Other Stories (2012), Against the Workshop: Provocations, Polemics, Controversies (2011), and Anatolia and Other Stories (2009). His debut novel, Karachi Raj, is being published in 2013.

47 Percenter To All Haters: 'Don't Judge Me'

Arthur Delaney   |   September 19, 2012   10:22 AM ET

James Chukalas learned that some Americans hate the jobless after he stood next to President Barack Obama during a 2010 Rose Garden press conference. The president had urged Congress to quit blocking unemployment insurance so people like Chukalas, who had lost his car dealership job in 2008, could feed their families.

"I've been called everything from a freeloader to things I can't repeat right now because I stood with the president," Chukalas, of Fredon Township, N.J., said in an interview on Tuesday. "It really offended me. I had people who don't know me from a hole in the wall and they're talking smack about me. Don't judge me before you’ve walked a week in my shoes."

Chukalas had a similar reaction when he heard Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney say in a recently released video that 47 percent of America pays no income taxes, is dependent on government programs, and will therefore vote for Obama. "I'll never convince them they should take personal responsibility and care for their lives," Romney said.

"I think I'm the kind of person he’s talking about, but without walking a week in my shoes, don't judge me," Chukalas said.

In his Rose Garden remarks in 2010, Obama urged the U.S. Senate to end a standoff that halted unemployment benefits for 2.5 million, including Chukalas and two other people who stood at the president's side.

"Jim has posted resumes everywhere, and even gone door-to-door looking for jobs, but hasn’t gotten a single interview," Obama said. "He’s trying to be strong for his two young kids, but now that he’s exhausted his unemployment benefits, that’s getting harder to do."

One of the other people who joined the president that day turned out to have a felony conviction, resulting in a nasty backlash. Chukalas said he didn't like getting swept up in the critical commentary on TV. "They started saying stuff like, 'What do we know about the other two? They couldn't find three people with a clean record?'"

Back then, combined state and federal unemployment insurance lasted up to 99 weeks. Now it's down to 73 weeks, and the number of people receiving benefits is declining faster than the number of people unemployed. At the end of the year, Congress must once again decide whether to reauthorize federal benefits or else leave the jobless with a maximum of 26 weeks.

Chukalas ran out of unemployment insurance long ago, but still does not have a job. With his two young kids back in school, he said he is revving up his job search and submitting resumes around town on Tuesday. Chukalas said his wife is still working and that his family is getting by with less.

"I've become a halfway decent housewife and a better cook," he said. "We could be worse off but we're surviving. I pretty much cut up the credit cards. If I can't afford it on my debit card, I don't buy it."

As for Romney's comments, Chukalas said he suspects there are some people who really are content to avoid work and receive government benefits -- just not nearly as many as Romney says.

"I’m sure some are content receiving a welfare check or unemployment check. Me, I wasn’t," he said. "At the same time, I want to think it's not 47 percent."

Homeless 47 Percenter: 'We Try Every Day To Find A Way To Improve Our Situation'

Ben Hallman   |   September 18, 2012    8:00 PM ET

Zibron Harden is too busy attending school full time and raising three sons to pay much attention to Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney, but she disagrees with any notion that her family, at least, isn't trying hard enough to succeed.

"I know I am working extremely hard," Harden said in a phone interview on Tuesday from an office at Metropolitan Ministries, a homeless shelter in Tampa, Fla., where she and her family have lived in a tiny apartment for the past nine months. "Trust me when I say that we try every day to find a way to improve our situation."

Harden and her husband, Miguel Colindres, didn't pay any federal income taxes last year, and though Colindres recently got a job after a long period of unemployment, they likely won't pay any taxes this year, either. As such, they are part of the 47 percent: mostly poor and elderly Americans who don't earn enough each year to pay federal taxes (though many contribute indirectly through business payroll taxes).

As seen in a video obtained by Mother Jones, Romney told attendees at a private fundraiser earlier this year that these voters are "dependent on government," believe that they are "victims," and believe "they are entitled to health care, to food, to housing."

"I'll never convince them they should take personal responsibility and care for their lives," he said.

But Harden, who is 40, thinks she is taking plenty of responsibility. She is taking an accounting course at a local technical college and has a 4.0 grade point average -- a point of pride that she makes sure to mention twice. She is raising three boys, ages 13, 7 and 5.

In the year before they found a spot at the homeless shelter, Harden took responsibility for finding a roof to put over her family's head each night.

In the nine months since, she took responsibility by taking classes -- offered by the shelter through its "Uplift U" program -- in budgeting, resume writing and interview techniques.

"The way the economy is, I need to load up on the tools that I need to stand above and beyond [other job seekers]," she said.

She also takes responsibility for mistakes her family has made. Before her husband lost his job as a paralegal at a small law firm forced to close its doors during the recession in 2010, her family did a poor job of financial planning, she said.

"You never think that it will happen to you," she said. "For us we always thought that next paycheck is coming. We talked about savings and retirement but never got around to it."

John Celock   |   September 18, 2012    6:30 PM ET

Republican U.S. Senate nominee, Wendy Long, told a state political news radio show Tuesday that Mitt Romney's "47 percent" comments could have been worded better.

Wendy Long, a conservative judicial activist who is challenging New York Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D), said on "The Fred Dicker Show" on Talk 1300 radio in Albany, that Romney did not "sound correct" in his phrasing when he said the 47 percent of people in the U.S. who do not pay taxes plan to vote for President Barack Obama and are dependent on government. Long instead blamed Obama and said people did not want to be dependent on government, Capitol Tonight reported.

"Capitol Tonight," a television show and blog covering New York politics, also reported that Long told Dicker:

“I think it’s a reflection that Obama really does want to create a culture of dependency,” she said. “I don’t believe that the people in the 47 percent want to be there.”

According to "Capitol Tonight," Long compared Romney's quote, which was secretly recorded at a private fundraiser, with Obama's 2008 quote about voters in Pennsylvania clinging "to guns and religion," which was taped at a private fundraiser and reported by Off The Bus.

Long also said on Talk 1300 that Gillibrand has said different things in private fundraisers, but Long did not cite examples, news website Capitol New York reported.

Long has been trailing Gillibrand in all polls during the race. A review of polls by HuffPost Pollster has Gillibrand with a 39-point lead over Long. Long captured the GOP nomination in June, defeating U.S. Rep. Bob Turner and Nassau County Comptroller George Maragos in the primary.

Gillibrand is seeking her first full term in the Senate in the current election, after her 2009 appointment by former Gov. David Paterson (D) and her 2010 election over former Rep. Joe DioGuardi (R) for the remaining two years of Secretary of State Hillary Clinton's Senate term.

Grover Norquist On Mitt Romney 47 Percent Comment: He 'Mixed Up' His Issues

Sam Stein   |   September 18, 2012    5:28 PM ET

WASHINGTON -- Mitt Romney's caught-on-camera assessment that 47 percent of people who don't pay federal income tax are government moochers with no interest in his campaign has left a split within the Republican Party.

In one camp stand the governor's political defenders, including former New Hampshire Gov. John Sununu, who argue that he was playing the role of political pundit when he offered his take on the state of the presidential race last May. In another camp stand a group of conservatives who have argued, despite evidence to the contrary, that there is a freeloader problem in the country and that Romney was preaching the truth in his big-donor meeting. And in the minority are those Republicans -- led by The New York Times' David Brooks -- who argue that Romney got it wrong on both the policy and the politics.

Somewhere in between those three stands Grover Norquist. The longtime anti-tax crusader told The Huffington Post that he believed Romney "mixed up" his numbers and fumbled an otherwise opportune moment. He wishes that the Republican nominee "had sort of the Jack Kemp/Arthur Brooks immediate response" to the question -- meaning he wishes that Romney had hammered away at the dangers of government dependency -- instead of getting bogged down in a tax fairness debate.

But he didn't regard the response as a "big" problem. In fact, he thought the Romney camp could turn it into a plus over the next month.

"I went up to the campaign and I said, What’s your take on this? And I got back the perfect answer: We’re working to provide opportunity while the other team is trying to teach dependence and we win that fight in America," said Norquist. "If this was Bulgaria in 1957, I’m not sure we’d win the debate. In the United States, we win that debate."

"In the original comment, which first off was not written down, was off the top of his head, in response to God knows what, [while] the cameras are going," he said what he said, Norquist added. "We have a month now to walk through it. And the longer they stay on that issue, [the better]. That is not a winning issue for Obama."

Norquist's take on the controversial comments could have an impact on how the rest of the Republican Party approaches the fallout. The prominent activist has a legion of followers, both in Congress and outside of it. And on a strictly philosophical level, he should find Romney's statement objectionable. After all, the underlying point made by the governor was that some of the 47 percent of those not paying federal income taxes should be handed some of that burden -- an expansion of tax liability that is anathema to Norquist's worldview, which holds that taxes should be as low as possible.

"I think it’s a mistake to look at one person paying more than somebody else and saying the problem here is this other guy," Norquist said on the substance of Romney's remarks. "Rather, we want to reduce taxes on everybody.

"So the thought that there are people who don’t pay federal income taxes does not mean they are not sensitive to tax increases or taxes in general. One, because of lifetime changes over life, but also because people pay property taxes, young people see sales taxes and property taxes and state taxes and local taxes."

Romney, in a Tuesday afternoon interview on Fox News, addressed that point. His tax plan remains centered on a 20 percent rate reduction across the board. But he still hasn't specified the loopholes and deductions he will eliminate to pay for it. As for those currently not paying federal income tax, he only wants them to do so if they have higher-paying jobs.

"First of all, of course you're right, there are number of retirees, members of military, and so forth, who aren't paying taxes," he said. "And that's as it should be. But I do believe that we should have enough jobs and enough take-home pay such that people have the privilege of higher income that allows them to be paying taxes. i think people would like to be paying taxes."

Will A Gaffe Be A 2012 Campaign-Killer? Political Science Says 'No'

Jason Linkins   |   September 18, 2012    4:45 PM ET

The pointed question, shouted at Mitt Romney in Poland, that more or less sums up the 2012 campaign season, is "What about your gaffes?" Well, what about them? In the wake of the release of Mitt Romney's donor party video, there's been a lot of breathless talk about Romney's remarks therein being the death knell of his campaign hopes. Bloomberg's Josh Barro bravely offered the firmest conjecture: "You can mark my prediction now: A secret recording from a closed-door Mitt Romney fundraiser, released today by David Corn at Mother Jones, has killed Mitt Romney's campaign for president."

Look, it would be nice if political successes and failures could all be traced back to some frozen moment on the campaign trail instead of a complicated combination of economic factors, overall campaign management, on-the-ground organization, and voters brought to the polls to make a simple choice that sums up their values and aspirations at the place where the personal and political intersect.

But it's very, very possible to overstate the effect of so-called gaffes, and in times such as these, I look to people like The Monkey Cage's John Sides to dispel the charged air with some sensible political science. And Sides' numbers suggest that the big 2012 "gaffes" aren't moving the needle. Per Sides: "No discernible or certainly consequential movement because of Obama's two 'gaffes.' The only movement after Romney's comments about the Libya attack is in his favor, thanks largely to the probably inevitable tightening after Obama's convention bump."

He has a graph that will finally make this clear.

gaffes and polls

From this perspective, the story of the race seems pretty by-the-book. Obama enjoys a fairly consistent, fairly small lead over Romney. Romney narrowed the gap toward the end of August. Obama bounced it wide open some time after. Now we're back to the narrow Obama lead. (As the Washington Post's Aaron Blake reports, "the bounce that Obama got from the convention is essentially gone.") Those "gaffes" aren't having the sort of impact that justifies their hype.

Of course, campaigns that make a lot of mistakes tend to lose, and since Romney has clearly been pulled into this discussion over his donor party remarks against his desires, he's certainly vulnerable now to the sorts of errors you can make when you lose control of the conversation. And as Kevin Drum points out, Romney's control of that conversation could come to be lost by his nominal allies: "The damage Romney did to himself by privately pandering to this sentiment is bad enough already. But the most unhinged segment of his supporters is going to make it even worse, repeating his argument endlessly in far cruder terms than Romney did."

Conversely, there's always the chance that Team Obama Re-Elect overplays whatever hand they now think they've been dealt. But the larger point is this: Just as they say "it's not the crime that kills you, but the coverup," it's not the gaffe that kills you, but everything that comes after. And from there, you get into unmeasureable hypotheticals. Per Sides:

The best argument you can make about these gaffes is sort of a woolly counterfactual: "Well, if it hadn't been for the release of Romney's video today, Romney would have been able to accomplish X, Y, and Z, which would have helped him win the election." Like any counterfactual, there is some plausibility -- yes, Romney would rather talk about the unemployment rate than these comments.

But like any counterfactual, it's predicated on assumptions about what the world would have looked like without these comments.

Maybe Romney's "47 percent" remarks will prove to be some sort of "game changer." But go read Sides' whole post on the matter -- as you'll see, there's no 2008 precedent for a candidacy-scuttling "gaffe" either.

Mitt Romney and that 47% [The Monkey Cage]

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Former 47 Percenter On Romney: 'I Don't Think He Has A Clue'

Arthur Delaney   |   September 18, 2012    4:20 PM ET

Scott Pickard disagrees with Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney's claim that nearly half of American voters oppose him because they're dependent on government spending and bereft of personal responsibility.

"I don't think he has a clue," Pickard said.

Pickard, 50, spent more than three years unemployed before landing a job as a staff training specialist at a university in Long Beach, Calif., in April. He said his long jobless spell was not fun at all, as it brought bouts of depression he coped with one hour at a time. "I was not having very healthy thoughts," he said.

Pickard said he persistently sought work and only maintained his sanity by networking with other unemployed people, and that the suggestion he mooched off of society is false.

"I slogged through it and made it work," he said. "I made sure I was not a drain on society –- and there are many people who do that."

Romney told attendees at a private fundraiser earlier this year that 47 percent of voters will cast ballots for President Barack Obama no matter what, partly because they pay no income tax, partly because of government dependency.

"There are 47 percent who are with him, who are dependent on government, who believe that that they are victims, who believe that government has the responsibility to care for them, who believe that they are entitled to health care, to food, to housing," Romney said in the video, obtained by Mother Jones this week. "And so my job is not to worry about those people. I'll never convince them they should take personal responsibility and care for their lives."

Romney's comment is a mix of two common conservative laments. One is that nearly half the country doesn't pay federal income taxes (though almost everyone pays other kinds of state and federal taxes), and the other is that nearly half of Americans receive some sort of government benefit. Some conservatives have suggested the bad economy is partly caused by the failure of unemployed people to take available jobs because they are deliberately coddled by Democrats pushing unemployment insurance, food stamps, and disability benefits.

During most of his first two years of joblessness, Pickard paid federal income taxes even though he wasn't working, since unemployment compensation is taxable. In the year-plus of joblessness during which Pickard did not receive unemployment insurance, he paid no federal income tax.

Pickard said he turned to his family for support, not the government. He resents the notion that not paying federal income tax means he had been personally irresponsible, saying he attended several networking meetings every week until he found a job.

"In fact, I think my participation in the networking environments is proof I actually took responsibility," Pickard said.

His new job pays less than his old one, but he's happy to have returned to the portion of the population that pays federal income taxes -- affirming Romney's comment on Tuesday that "I think people would like to be paying taxes."

Pickard said he is registered to vote without a party affiliation, and that he has never been a Romney supporter. He also said he thinks Romney will say anything to win the election. "Mitt Romney has never at any time said anything that was truly of his own conviction," he said.