Mitt Romney on Monday said his controversial statements caught on tape were "off the cuff" and "not elegantly stated," but he defended the main message of his remarks.
Romney took three questions in a brief press conference with pool reporters late Monday night in California, scheduled at the last minute in response to the release of secretly recorded video of the candidate speaking at a private fund-raiser in May.
The video quickly caught fire as potentially damaging material to the Republican presidential nominee.
In the footage, taped with a hidden camera, Romney argued nearly half of Americans will vote for President Barack Obama because they rely on government support, made apparent jokes about wishing he had Latino heritage, and talks about a Chinese factory his former firm purchased.
"There are 47 percent of the people who will vote for the president no matter what," Romney says in one clip. "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."
The non-partisan Tax Policy Center estimates that for tax year 2011, 46% of households will end up owing nothing in federal income taxes. But if payroll taxes are counted, the number of non-payer households drops precipitously - to an estimated 18% in 2011.
Adding to his argument about entitlement, Romney said his "job is not to worry about those people."
"I'll never convince them they should take personal responsibility and care for their lives," he added. "What I have to do is convince the 5 percent to 10 percent in the center that are independents, that are thoughtful."
The videos were posted Monday afternoon on the left-leaning news websites The Huffington Post and Mother Jones. The person responsible for the footage said he or she wishes to remain anonymous for "professional reasons and to avoid a lawsuit," according to the Huffington Post. Furthermore, the video was altered dramatically - but retains the audio from the event - to mask the location and date of the fund-raiser with high-dollar donors.
Appearing on MSBC late Monday night, the author of the Mother Jones article, David Corn, said the event took place May 17 in Boca Raton, Florida, at the home of Sun Capital executive Marc Leder.
Romney, in his press conference Monday night, said he could have stated his original comments "more clearly" but said he was trying to point out the differences between the two campaigns.
"We have a very different approach - the president and I - between a government-dominated society and a society driven by free people pursuing their dreams," Romney said.
As for why he spoke more candidly with the group of donors, Romney said he was addressing some concerns at the fund-raiser.
"At a fundraiser you have people say, 'Governor how are you going to win this?' And so I respond 'Well, the president has his group, I have my group. I want to keep my team strong and motivated and I want to get those people in the middle.' That's something which fund-raising people who are parting with their monies are very interested in," Romney said.
He also called on the unidentified individual to release the entire video, rather than "snippets."
Shortly after reports began to surface about the video, campaign spokesman Rick Gorka said the campaign will allow pool reporters to film fund-raisers in private homes beginning Tuesday. Previously, reporters were allowed into some of the events but were not permitted to use cameras.
When the campaign released a statement in response to the issue later Monday, it did not directly mention the videos.
"Mitt Romney wants to help all Americans struggling in the Obama economy. As the governor has made clear all year, he is concerned about the growing number of people who are dependent on the federal government, including the record number of people who are on food stamps, nearly one in six Americans in poverty, and the 23 million Americans who are struggling to find work. Mitt Romney's plan creates 12 million new jobs in four years, grows the economy and moves Americans off of government dependency and into jobs," Gail Gitcho, Romney's communications director, said in the statement.
Republican National Committee chairman Reince Priebus defended Romney on Monday, saying the nominee was simply describing the "monstrosity" of government.
"The point of all of this is that the size of government is too big, and if we don't do something about it we're going to really lose the very idea of America," Priebus said on CNN's "The Situation Room."
He added: "I don't have the numbers in front of me but clearly what we do have, very clearly, is a government and a society here in this country that is becoming dependent."
Also at the event, Romney joked he would be more successful in his White House bid if his father were actually Latino, rather than having been born in Mexico to missionary parents from the United States.
"My dad, as you probably, know was the governor of Michigan and was the head of a car company. But he was born in Mexico ... and, uh, had he been born of, uh, Mexican parents, I'd have a better shot at winning this," Romney said. "But he was unfortunately born to Americans living in Mexico.... I mean I say that jokingly, but it would be helpful to be Latino."
The tape came the same day as Romney addressed the Hispanic Chamber of Commerce in Los Angeles as he continues to court Latino voters, which have largely signaled they would fall in Obama's column in November. According to a recent Gallup poll, Obama leads Romney among Latino registered voters 64%-27%.
Obama's campaign quickly seized on the reports Monday, calling Romney's comments "shocking."