Facing tough questions about his commitment to all Americans, Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney declared Wednesday that his campaign supports "the 100 percent in America."
Speaking at a “Meet the Candidates” forum at the University of Miami moderated by anchors from Spanish-language network Univision, Romney was responding to questions sparked by his remarks at a May fundraiser. At that fundraiser, Romney had said that as a candidate his "job is not to worry about" the 47 percent of Americans he said don't earn enough to pay income taxes, believe they are “victims” and are likely to support President Barack Obama.
"First of all, this is a campaign about the 100 percent,” Romney said at Wednesday's forum. "And over the last several years, you’ve seen greater and greater divisiveness in this country. We had hoped to come back together but instead you've seen us pulled apart. I am concerned about the fact that over the past four years, life has become harder for Americans."
Romney downplayed his support earlier in the year for policies that would promote "self-deportation" of illegal immigrants, while suggesting he might favor legal status for young immigrants who serve in the military or pursue higher education.
"I'm not in favor of a deportation — mass deportation — effort, rounding up 12 million people and kicking them out of the country," Romney said. "I believe people make their own choices as to whether they want to go home, and that's what I mean by self-deportation."
While Romney assailed Obama's immigration record, he largely avoided detailing his own immigration plans, despite repeated questions from Univision hosts.
"He never tried to fix the immigration system," Romney said of the incumbent. "I will actually reform the immigration system and make it work for the people of America."
Besides his comments on immigration, Romney also softened his tone on health care and gay rights, NBC's First Read blog reported.
In embracing Massachusetts' health care law, which he signed into law as governor, Romney said, "Now and then the president says I’m the grandfather of Obamacare. I don’t think he meant that as a compliment, but I’ll take it.”
On gay marriage, Romney said: "I would like to have the term marriage continue to be associated with a relationship between one man and one woman, and that certainly doesn’t prevent two people of the same gender living in a loving relationship together having gay domestic partnership, if you will.”
Romney also laughed off another remark from his leaked fundraiser tape, in which he told donors that being a Latino would have helped his chances against Obama, NBC News reported.
Asked whether he were certain he wasn’t Hispanic because his father was born in Mexico, Romney deadpanned, "I think for political purposes that might have helped me here at the University of Miami today."
Later, in making the pitch to Hispanic voters at a Miami rally following the forum, Romney spoke of his father's bootstrapping roots.
"My dad was born in Mexico of Americans parents living there," he said at the "Juntos con Romney" rally. "At age 5 or 6 there was revolution. They came back to the United States, and my dad had to get help, financial help. The government helped his family be able to get on their feet again. By the way, that’s the way America works, we have great hearts; we care for people who have needs. We help get them back. We help lift them up but then they go back to their permanent lifestyle. We help people, we get them on their feet and they build a brighter future.”
Romney argued that the GOP "is the natural home for Hispanic Americans because this is the party of opportunity and hope," and went on to criticize the unemployment rate of Hispanics under Obama's administration.
“It’s been over 50 months that unemployment among Hispanic Americans is a bit above 10 percent. Two million more Hispanics have fallen into poverty under this president’s term – two million more," Romney said.
The Republican nominee referred again to a video of Obama made in 1998. Obama, then an Illinois state senator, said in that video that he believed in income redistribution, "at least to a certain level to make sure everybody's got a shot." When Romney referred Wednesday to Obama's remark, the crowd booed.
"There are people who believe that you can create a stronger economy and a brighter future if you take from some people and give to other people," Romney continued as his audience booed some more. "Other places that have tried that haven’t done so well. That is not a philosophy that’s ever been tried here. We’re not going to have it here. We’re going to get America back to having free people pursuing their dreams in a free country!"
The Obama campaign quickly responded to his remarks.
"Despite what he said in Miami tonight, redistribution is exactly what Mitt Romney's promising to deliver if he's elected. President Obama has cut taxes for the typical middle class family by $3,600 over his first term, but Romney would raise them on the middle class by cutting deductions like those for mortgage interest, children, and charitable contributions to pay for a $250,000 tax cut for multimillionaires," Obama campaign spokeswoman Lis Smith said in a statement.
"And he'd turn Medicare into a voucher program for seniors – the very group he disparaged behind closed doors at a high-dollar fundraiser. That's not a plan to strengthen the middle class or grow our economy – it's a plan to redistribute hard-earned middle class income to those at the top," the statement said.
Obama is set to appear at the same "Meet the Candidates" forum today.