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Scott Conroy | Republicans Renew Focus on Poverty





Eight months before “the 47 percent” became shorthand for Mitt Romney’s seeming lack of empathy for struggling Americans, the former Massachusetts governor made smaller headlines with a another ill-considered remark, which also bolstered perceptions that he was dismissive of the nation’s underclass.

The morning after his crucial victory in the Florida primary, Romney appeared on CNN and paraphrased a line from his stump speech that he had been delivering for months.

“I’m not concerned about the very poor,” he said. “We have a safety net there. If it needs repair, I’ll fix it.”

Amid the blowback that resulted, Lawrence Mead — a renowned expert on poverty, whose ideas played an instrumental role in welfare reform during the 1990s — offered to help clean up the mess. Mead had previously served as an adviser to George W. Bush’s presidential campaign on the issue — a role that he was willing to reprise on behalf of the 2012 GOP nominee, he suggested in an email to a Romney campaign official.

“They didn’t react at all [to the offer], and I think it’s because they just didn’t want to address the issue,” recalled Mead, who currently teaches a class at NYU on the politics of poverty and welfare. “They wanted to have it go away, and it was [Paul] Ryan who gave that one speech where there was some attention paid, but it was never a prominent issue in the campaign.”

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