WEST PALM BEACH, Fla. - Mitt Romney has been trying to distance himself from his infamous "47 percent" comments since they were leaked last month, but his ticket is not distancing itself from the man at whose home the GOP presidential nominee made those remarks.
Romney's running mate, Rep. Paul Ryan, R-Wis., attended a fundraiser Friday evening in Boca Raton, Fla., hosted by Marc Leder, the private equity executive who hosted the $50,000-a-head dinner in May where Romney made the comments. Leder owns Sun Capital Partners and introduced Ryan to the crowd of about 130 donors.
"I've known Mitt Romney for a long time, but I'm really just starting to get to know Congressman Ryan - which is good news for all of you, because I really don't have any remarks," Leder said, joking that those who know him well know it's hard to get him away from a microphone.
"One other thing I'd like to say is this is, I think, my fourth or fifth one these in the last four years," Leder added. "And what I've been most impressed by is everyone's work at the campaign. … All the volunteers, all the paid team that Mitt has put together, right to the last one, has been absolutely incredible. And among other reasons, that's why I'm convinced Mitt and Paul are going to win this election."
Leder - a co-owner of the Philadelphia 76ers basketball team also known for his wild bashes in New York's Hamptons - and his Sun Capital partner, Rodger Krouse, were among two dozen co-hosts of the event at the posh Saint Andrews Country Club.
Last month, Romney's comments at Leder's home were released via a secret recording at the May dinner. He said the "47 percent" of people who don't pay income taxes will never vote for him because they are "dependent" and "victims."
"There are 47 percent of the people who will vote for the president no matter what," Romney said in the video, originally obtained by the left-leaning Mother Jones magazine. "All right, there are 47 percent who are with him, who are dependent upon government, who believe 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 added that he will "never convince them they should take personal responsibility and care for their lives."
There was no mention of the comments at Friday evening's fundraiser, where donors paid $2,500 to attend the general reception, $10,000 for a photo with Ryan, or $25,000 for a private dinner at the home of real estate investors Mike and Irene Milin.
But Krouse did make a point to say there is no "us" and no "them," referring to bringing together Americans from "all walks of life."
"At our companies, the first thing we do is bring people together. … We recognize that we may be different, but if we don't work together, we fail," Krouse said. "To quote Mitt, we recognize that we are all children of the same God. … In my experience, people in this country from all walks of life want what's best for America and are willing to sacrifice. There really is no 'us,' there really is no 'them,' and neither party is completely in the right."
Krouse continued: "What Mitt has done in Massachusetts and Paul has done in Congress, they will bring people together as the next president and next vice president of the United States."
Romney has since said the comments were "completely wrong."
As guests drank wine and munched on watermelon carved in the shape of the GOP's elephant symbol, Ryan told the donors his ticket is "about growth."
"We are about restoring the American dream of opportunity and upward mobility," Ryan said. "And we've got to get off this path that we are on, which is nothing short of economic stagnation that promotes more dependency. That's the clear choice - growth versus stagnation, dependency versus upward mobility."
The House budget chairman also thanked the donors and explained the importance of his ticket's ground game when it comes to getting out the vote on Nov. 6, and how their high-dollar donations help "enough people in America, in these critical states, understand that."
"We also have a great ground game," Ryan said. "That is what I wanted to leave with you, is. I know you've been to a few of these already - it makes an enormous difference because we have to have a very effective ground game to get people to the polls. There is no substitute for human-and-human interaction. There is a blizzard of TV ads - that has some effect, of course - but it is not substitute for a person picking up a phone or a person going door-to-door and talking to one of their neighbors, talking to one of their friends, talking to somebody in their community about the real choice we have in front of us, about the nature of this race and the direction of this country."
A CNN/ORC poll out Friday had the race in Florida in a dead heat, with Romney at 49 percent and Obama at 48 percent.
Ryan spent the day campaigning in Florida, holding a roundtable on entrepreneurship in Tampa, Fla., with aspiring and established entrepreneurs. He will hold an evening joint rally with Mitt Romney in Daytona Beach, Fla. He heads to campaign in Pennsylvania and Ohio Saturday.
On Friday, he told two local radio shows in Wisconsin that he would be launching a campaign swing in the state at some point around Halloween, making sure he can also go "trick or treating" in his home state with his three young children.