Charles Dharapak, Associated Press
DES MOINES, Iowa — Mitt Romney's off-handed comment that he doesn't worry about the 47 percent of Americans who pay no income taxes has quickly entered the bloodstream in the presidential campaign's most hard-fought states.
His comment, in a video revealed this week, is prompting expressions of shock — but also shrugs — from Nevada to Florida to New Hampshire and the handful of battleground states in between.
Will it sway an election expected to be close?
There was much discussion in the relatively few states that are still considered competitive, likely to decide the race. Here, as elsewhere, the question was whether Romney was showing himself to be insensitive or merely delivering the hard truth a nation at an economic crossroads must face.
People's answers could make an Election Day difference in states where the race is tight.
"It sounds like he's leaving out half of America, if you ask me," said Gary Gabriel, an independent from suburban Columbus, Ohio, who decided in light of Romney's comments to support President Barack Obama.
But the remarks also reaffirmed the opinions of some Romney supporters.
"I worry a lot about the society we're turning into, more of an entitlement mentality," said Randy Schumaker, a Denver-area IT manager.
It all underscored the campaign's focus on the economy. And it stoked deeper questions about voters' expectations about the government's role in Americans' daily lives.
Outrage. Nodding approval. Both followed Romney's contention that 47 percent of Americans support Obama and that they "are dependent upon government" and "believe that they are victims, who believe that government has a responsibility to care for them."
In a Gallup poll taken Tuesday, about a third of the surveyed registered voters said they would be less likely to support Romney in light of the remarks, But more said the comments would not affect their votes. And most voters have already made up their minds on whom they will support, according to this and other surveys.
More voter voices:
"He does not have that empathy that says he really cares," said Michael Symes from the economically hard-hit Las Vegas area.
Student Morgan Palmer said he needs his college loan to get through Christopher Newport University in Newport News, Va. But he doesn't consider himself a government dependent. "I was really shocked," the 18-year-old freshman from Chantilly, Va., said. "This is a long-term investment, not short-term dependency."
Outside LaCrosse, Wis., however, retired mortgage loan officer Shirley Otto said Romney was merely delivering an unvarnished version of the straight talk the nation needs to hear.
"I'd rather be told the truth ... than be told something just to win an election," Otto said.
Romney's comments were recorded without his awareness at a private May fundraiser in Florida. They were provided to the magazine Mother Jones, which released them Monday.
By that evening, they had aired on evening news broadcasts in key battleground markets such as Denver and Milwaukee. By Tuesday morning, The Des Moines Register in Iowa and The Columbus Dispatch in Ohio featured front-page headlines about Romney's words.
They were the buzz outside a Joe Biden campaign rally in Ottumwa, Iowa, that morning, as they were at Phil Hopkins' paint store near, Columbus, Ohio. "It's kind of refreshing for someone to actually tell the truth for once," said Hopkins, an independent who supports Romney.
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