Romney using candid comments to draw distinction with Obama

Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney addresses a fundraising event on September 18, 2012, in Salt Lake City.

(CBS News) Mitt Romney is making it clear: He is not backing away from his comments at a fundraiser caught by hidden camera about the "47 percent", and is using them to draw a contrast between his views of government and what he says are the president's.

"This is a message I'm carrying day in and day out and will carry over the coming months, which is this is a decision about the course of America and where we're going to head," Romney said.

In an interview this afternoon on Fox News, Romney stood his ground, using his remarks about dependence on governance to hit the president for high unemployment and growing numbers on food stamps.

"But the intent that I want to talk about that was intended to speak about, was the fact that you have a great divide whether we want a government that's larger and more intrusive, redistributing income. Or whether you want a government that sees its role as protecting freedom and opportunity and letting free people build more wealth for all people," Romney said.

Romney was less forceful last night, in a hastily arranged news conference hours after the tape became public.

"It's not elegantly stated, let me put it that way. I was speaking off the cuff in response to a question. And I'm sure I could state it more clearly in a more effective way than I did in a setting like that," Romney said.

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He said he was making the point that people who don't pay income tax aren't likely to be attracted to his message of lower taxes. Some Republican commentators Tuesday were critical, since Romney will need support from people in that 47 percent -- such as senior citizens -- to beat President Obama.

The Weekly Standard's Bill Kristol called the comments "arrogant" and "stupid."

But most Republicans stood by Romney, including former presidential candidate John McCain, who was campaigning for him today in Florida.

"I think people know Mitt Romney well enough to know that he is fighting and struggling for the vote of every registered voter in America, especially here in Florida," McCain said.

McCain said the episode shows candidates have to realize everything can be recorded.

President Obama stirred controversy four years ago, when he was caught on tape at a fundraiser saying this about resentment among small town-voters in Pennsylvania and the Midwest: "And it's not surprising then they get bitter, they cling to guns or religion or antipathy toward people who aren't like them or anti-immigrant sentiment or anti-trade sentiment as a way to explain their frustrations."

This is supposed to be the week Romney is refocusing on jobs and the economy, with some new polls now showing this race back to a dead heat. But this is yet another distraction as the campaign is trying to build momentum.

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    Jan Crawford is CBS News Chief Political and Legal Correspondent. She is from "Crossroads," Alabama.