King: For Romney, how bad is this?

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    Romney explains fundraiser video

Romney explains fundraiser video 02:23

Story highlights

  • King: Romney's "47%" figure may not be statistic about who pays federal income taxes
  • Democrats are gleeful over Romney's comments; GOP strategists in Washington see remarks as self-inflicted wound
  • Release of secretly videotaped remarks comes as race appears to be trending in Obama's favor

First Mitt Romney makes two references to 47 percent. Then he suggests President Barack Obama "starts off with 48, 49."

"These are people who pay no income tax," Romney said at a May fund-raising event that was secretly recorded and is now at the center of a campaign controversy.

Because of that remark, most of the commentary has understandably assumed he was referring at all times to the roughly half of Americans who don't pay income taxes.

CNNMoney.com: Romney's '47%' - Washington's tax break obsession to blame

I think not.

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    Romney comments caught on tape

Romney comments caught on tape 08:06
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    Just Watched

    Who are the 47%?

Who are the 47%? 02:52
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The first reference -- 47 percent -- is the ballpark number smart pollsters in both parties consistently use to describe the president's most loyal base.

The math behind that?

    Begin with the president's steady support among African-Americans, Latinos and other non-white voters. Then add in his backing among white, college-educated women.

    So when Romney told the fund-raiser crowd there are "47 percent of the people who will vote for the president no matter what" he was on solid ground and reflecting the consensus of his polling and political team.

    But how he got from that data point to describing Obama's coalition as "victims who believe the government has a responsibility to care for them" is a mystery.

    Not to mention a sweeping insult to many working-class voters and other taxpayers who support the president.

    Romney's remarks huge mistake or plain truth?

    In the recording, obtained by the left-leaning Mother Jones, Governor Romney twice uses the "47 percent" figure pollsters, including his own, suggest is the president's base.

    Moments later he uses the numbers "48, 49," presumably a reference to the nearly half of Americans who, in 2009, were not represented on a taxable return, according to data from the conservative Heritage Foundation.

    In any event, much of what he says in describing these voters is eye-popping.

    'Anatomy of a leak' of the Mitt Romney video

    "There are 47 percent who are with him, who are dependent on government, who believe that they are the victims, who believe the government has a responsibility to care for them, who believe that they are entitled to health care, to food, to housing, you name it, that that's an entitlement and they will vote for this president no matter what."

    Many GOP strategists in Washington see this as another self-inflicted political wound, and the Obama campaign and its Democratic allies are gleeful for the opportunity to suggest it is proof that Romney is disdainful of working-class Americans and insensitive to those, who because of economic hardship or other reasons, need government help.

    Secretly taped comments put Romney back on defense

    Now, to be clear, some grassroots conservatives are not unhappy, and are hoping Romney defends his remarks and pushes a debate on government assistance and dependency.

    While a healthy debate about government programs and priorities is always useful, such sweeping generalizations as those used by Romney are often a path into political quicksand.

    In 2008, Obama won 95% of the African-American vote, two-thirds of Latinos, 64% of other minority voters, and 52% of white women who are college graduates.

    Take another look at those numbers.

    Now think all of those voters fit this?: "These are people who pay no income tax."

    Or this?: "I'll never convince them they should take personal responsibility and care for their lives."

    It was recorded in May, but released seven weeks before Election Day, at a time when there is mounting evidence that the contest, while still highly competitive, is trending in the president's direction.

    They say timing is everything in politics. The timing for Romney here is horrible. He needs to be making his case about tomorrow's economy, not trying to explain away things he said months ago.

    Battleground polls: Is Romney's path to the White House now more difficult?

        Election 2012

      • CHICAGO, IL - NOVEMBER 06:  U.S. President Barack Obama stands on stage with first lady Michelle Obama, U.S. Vice President Joe Biden and Dr. Jill Biden after his victory speech on election night at McCormick Place November 6, 2012 in Chicago, Illinois. Obama won reelection against Republican candidate, former Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney.  (Photo by Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)

        A black man is returning to the White House. Four years ago, it was a first, the breaking of a racial barrier. Tuesday night, it was history redux. And more.
      • CHICAGO, IL - NOVEMBER 06:  U.S. President Barack Obama stands on stage after his victory speech at McCormick Place November 6, 2012 in Chicago, Illinois. Obama won reelection against Republican candidate, former Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney.  (Photo by Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)

        The 2012 presidential election shattered spending records, further polarized a divided country and launched a thousand hashtags.
      • Even though voters indicated to pollsters that their financial situation is the same or worse than it was four years ago, they put their trust in the president.
      • US President Barack Obama addresses a crowd of supporters on stage on election night November 6, 2012 in Chicago, Illinois. President Barack Obama swept to re-election Tuesday, forging history again by transcending a slow economic recovery and the high unemployment which haunted his first term to beat Republican Mitt Romney. AFP PHOTO/Jewel Samad        (Photo credit should read JEWEL SAMAD/AFP/Getty Images)

        The president faces a long and familiar set of challenges after riding a wave of support from moderates, women and minorities to victory.
      • Republicans kept a lock on the U.S. House of Representatives, a crucial victory after the party failed to wrest away the presidency from Barack Obama and the Senate from the Democrats.