Mitt Romney's campaign is reeling from the fallout from his secretly taped comments at a private fundraising event, which could spell disaster for the Republican nominee in the American presidential election.
By far the most damaging of the hidden camera clips is one in which Romney describes the "47 per cent of the people" who will vote for President Barack Obama as self-styled "victims" who pay no income tax and are dependent on government handouts.
He went on to say that his job "is not to worry about those people." For a multimillionaire presidential candidate struggling to connect with the average voter, the video revealing his contempt for half of the American population was devastating.
New York Times columnist David Brooks concluded that he is running "a depressingly inept presidential campaign."
Brooks said: "As a description of America today, Romney's comment is a country-club fantasy. It's what self-satisfied millionaires say to each other. It reinforces every negative view people have about Romney."
The former Massachusetts Governor staged a brief late night news conference in which he stuck by the substance of his leaked comments while admitting they were "not elegantly stated" and "off the cuff". But yesterday some in Romney's own camp expressed dismay, with influential pundit Bill Kristol describing his comments to wealthy donors as "stupid and arrogant".
"My expectation is that if you want to be president, you have to work for everyone, not just for some," Obama said on the Late Show with David Letterman.
The 49-minute video was released in full by Mother Jones yesterday after the magazine dripped more damaging material into the public domain during the day.
Romney can be heard at the event last May in Florida asserting that the Palestinians were committed to the destruction of Israel and "have no interest whatsoever in establishing peace". If it were down to him, he would "kick the ball down the field".
Coming after Romney drew fire last week over ill-judged remarks criticising Obama for his "appeasement" of Muslims as the US ambassador to Libya was killed in an attack on the US consulate in Benghazi, the latest leak has already attracted strong reactions. However opinion polls continue to show that the economy, not foreign policy, remains the main preoccupation of voters.
Forty eight per cent of likely Latino voters surveyed by Fox News, in a poll released yesterday, said that the economy is the most important issue in deciding their vote.
In a campaign already piled high with gaffes, the leaked video could further undermine his electoral chances.
Obama made his own missteps during his 2008 campaign, including when he described people in the Midwest as "clinging to their guns and religion". But he was able to recover as it was early in the campaign.
America is now only seven weeks away from the November election.By Anne Penketh