ATLANTA -- After two days of being derailed by a secretly recorded speech to donors, Mitt Romney sought Wednesday to reframe the presidential contest, insisting that he does care about all Americans, offering a full-throated defense of his view of government's role in society and slamming President Barack Obama for supporting wealth "redistribution," even as polls show support is growing for Obama.
"The question of this campaign is not who cares about the poor and the middle class. I do. He does. The question is who can help the poor and the middle class. I can! He can't!" Romney told about 1,000 cheering donors who spent as much as $50,000 to attend a fundraising luncheon here.
Romney has faced a rough 48 hours on the trail because of a recording released Monday of him describing the 47 percent of voters who support Obama as dependent on government, believing they are victims and not paying income taxes. Romney said he had no hope of swaying these people to his side.
"My job is not to worry about those people," Romney said in the recording, which was obtained by Mother Jones magazine. "I'll never convince them they should take personal responsibility and care for their lives."
Romney seized on a videotape posted Tuesday of Obama discussing the distribution of resources 14 years ago to argue that the president has a world view that is "foreign."
Obama "really believes in what I'll call a government-centered society. I know
Obama has received heat for such statements in the past, notably in an exchange with Sam Wurzelbacher, aka Joe the Plumber, during the 2008 campaign. Romney sought to link the tape to a statement Obama made earlier this year about how government spending helps businesses.
"This idea of redistribution follows from the idea that if you have a business, you didn't build it, someone else did that," Romney said. "It's the same concept. That see, government is responsible for everything that's gone on here. And therefore government can take and give as it chooses. It's an entirely foreign concept that will not work, that has not worked. That has never worked anywhere in the world."
The recording of Obama, posted by the Drudge Report, is of the then-state senator speaking at Loyola University in Chicago about how government can help the poor.
"I think the trick is figuring out how do we structure government systems that pool resources and hence facilitate some redistribution," Obama said, "because I actually believe in redistribution, at least at a certain level, to make sure everybody's got a shot."
Romney's running mate, Rep. Paul Ryan, R-Wisc., defended Romney's intent, if not his elocution, in a radio interview Wednesday. What Romney meant, Ryan told KRNV-TV in Reno, was that under Obama, government dependency and economic stagnation are both up. "He was obviously inarticulate in making this point."
Should he have worded it differently? "That's for sure," Ryan said.
Fresh signs of a national housing rebound and growing support in public opinion polls boosted Obama's bid for a new term in the White House on Wednesday.
In a campaign dominated all year by the sluggish economy, the government said construction of single-family homes jumped to the highest rate in more than two years. Separately, the National Association of Realtors reported that home sales rose last month to the highest level since May 2010.
Real estate has been among the slowest sectors of the economy to recover from the national downturn of 2008. The administration has struggled to reverse a decline in home values that left millions who managed to avoid foreclosure owing more on their mortgages than their homes are worth.
There was downbeat news, as well, in an economy struggling to create jobs. State officials in Michigan reported the state's seasonally adjusted unemployment rate in August rose by four-tenths of a percent to 9.4 percent, well above the national average of 8.1 percent.
A new AP-GfK poll put Obama's overall approval rating among voting-age adults at 56 percent. That was above 50 percent for the first time since May and at its highest level since the death of terrorist leader Osama bin Laden more than a year ago.
Among likely voters, however, the race was a statistical tie, with Obama at 47 percent and Romney at 46 percent.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.