Sept. 19, 2012 -- Mitt Romney said three times in the opening 10 minutes of tonight's Univision "Meet the Candidate" forum that his campaign is "about the 100 percent," a clear message to voters who have been swamped with sound bites and video clips that show the candidate suggesting he wasn't concerned about the nearly half of the country unlikely to vote for him.
"My campaign is about the 100 percent of America," Romney said to the University of Miami crowd. "And I'm concerned about them. Life has become harder for Americans. I know I'm not going to get 100 percent of the vote. And my campaign will focus on the ones who will vote for me. ... I'm convinced that if we take a different course, you'll see incomes rising. I have a record, I've demonstrated my capacity to help the 100 percent."
Faced with some tough questions about immigration, Romney repeated his stance that the best path forward was a wholesale overhaul of the system that would encourage people in the country illegally now to "self-deport" and try to enter again under new laws.
"Do you think you're going to self-deport 11 million immigrants?" Univision anchor Jorge Ramos asked pointedly.
"I believe that people make their own choices as to whether they want to go home, and that's what I mean by self-deportation," Romney replied, appearing to soften his message from the primary debates in which self-deportation was forefront in his immigration plan. "People decide whether they want to go back to their country of origin and get in line legally to come to this country. Look, legal immigration is critical to this country. I love legal immigration."
When pressed further on the Arizona law that would require legal immigrants to provide papers in case they're arrested or stopped by police for any reason, Romney declined to take a firm position. At the time of the Supreme Court decision upholding most of the law, Romney would only say that President Obama "has failed to provide any leadership on immigration" and that states deserve the right to craft their own immigration laws when the federal government fails to do so. He said about the same tonight.
The Republican also answered questions about his plan to repeal Obama's health care law. When asked how he felt about the president and other Democrats' calling him "the grandfather" of the new "Affordable Care Act," Romney laughed.
"I don't think they meant it as a compliment," he said, "but I'll take it. This was during my primary. We thought it might not be helpful."
Democrats have seized on the fact that Romney included an individual mandate in his health care plan -- similar to that in President Obama's law -- during his time as Bay State governor.
Romney also stuck by his opposition to same-sex marriage. When asked whether he would react differently if one of his five sons were gay, the candidate said, "My kids are all married, so I'd be surprised."
The appearance on Univision, which will host President Obama in a similar setting Thursday afternoon, marks the beginning of a larger effort to connect with Latino voters, a core group Romney has had trouble swaying in the polls. He spoke at the U.S Hispanic Chamber of Commerce Monday and will campaign across Florida in the coming days.
Romney acknowledged the problem with a quick joke at the beginning of tonight's forum and, of course, during the now infamous, secretly taped fundraiser in Florida.
Had his father, former Michigan Gov. George Romney, been born Mexican rather than having just grown up there with expat U.S. parents, "I'd have a better shot at winning this," Romney quipped to a group of supporters in May. "I mean, I say that jokingly. But it would be helpful to be Latino."
One popular Hispanic politician who will not be at his side is New Mexico Gov. Susana Martinez, who is not, at this point, scheduled to make any joint appearances with Romney.
Martinez, honorary chairman of the campaign's Hispanic outreach group, has been critical of Romney's comments dismissing 47 percent of the American electorate as freeloaders who would never vote against President Obama.
"We have a lot of people that are at the poverty level in New Mexico, but they count just as much as anybody else," Martinez said during a news conference Tuesday.
She also defended her state's social welfare programs.
"There is a net that does allow them to be caught and taken care of," she said, "whether it be through medical services, whether it be food services, whether it be with funding for apartments, for housing."
On Tuesday, Super PACs pushing for the president's re-election confirmed revealed they'd purchased television time to run ads in six key swing states to put even more focus on the Romney tapes.
Weaving in Romney's more damaging rhetorical flights with images of "middle-class" families and workers, the Priorities USA spot, "Doors," opens with a shot of the lavish Florida mansion that hosted the May 17 fundraiser.
"Behind these doors, Mitt Romney calls half the American people 'dependent on government, who believe they are victims," the narrator intones. Then, cutting to an image of a more modest, suburban home, a warning is delivered: "Behind these doors, middle-class families struggle, and Romney will make things even tougher."
Romney responded to the criticism in a USA Today op-ed published Wednesday morning. There, he appeared to back off his harsh characterization of the "47 percent" of Americans he said don't pay income taxes but continue drawing money from entitlement programs.
"Under President Obama, we have a stagnant economy that fosters government dependency," Romney wrote. "My policies will create a growing economy that fosters upward mobility. Government has a role to play here. Right now, our nation's citizens do need help from government. But it is a very different kind of help than what President Obama wants to provide."
The Republican also assailed what he calls the "web of dependency" being sewn by the administration, promising to "pursue policies that grow our economy and lift Americans out of poverty."
The promises come in tandem with a revived effort -- Sen. John McCain tried a similar tactic in 2008 -- to paint President Obama as a closet socialist bent on "redistributing" American wealth.
Paul Ryan, the Republican vice presidential nominee, jumped into the fray Tuesday night, telling local news affiliates in the swing states of Nevada, New Hampshire and Virginia that Romney was "obviously inarticulate," but that the underlying theme of the Florida comments was sound.
"The point we're trying to make here is under the Obama economy government dependency is up and economic stagnation is up, and what we're trying to achieve is getting people off of government dependency and back to a job that pays well and gets them onto a path of prosperity," Ryan said during an interview with Joe Hart, from Reno's KRNV.
Speaking to Fox31 in Denver, Ann Romney accused her husband's opponents of misrepresenting his comments.
"I've been on, obviously, on the trail a long time with Mitt and if you listen to the whole context of what Mitt talks about, he is talking about what's happening right now in America and how more and more people are falling into poverty," Ann Romney said.