WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The surreptitious video recording of a fundraiser held for Republican Mitt Romney in May provided a rare glimpse of how he views supporters of President Barack Obama - as government dependents.
It also provided an equally novel sight of a relaxed Romney doing an impression of Henry Kissinger, dishing about late-night television talk show host David Letterman, and receiving some pointed tips for his presidential campaign.
“I saw Dr. Kissinger,” Romney says on the video, recounting a meeting in New York with the former U.S. secretary of state. “I said to him, ‘How are we perceived around the world?’ And he said one word: ‘Veak!’”
The secretly filmed recording, released in its entirety by the liberal Mother Jones magazine on Tuesday, opened a window on how Romney acts during the kind of private meeting with donors that is helping to propel the most expensive presidential campaign in U.S. history.
In this case the former Massachusetts governor and private equity executive was speaking to donors who paid $50,000 each for the privilege of his company at a private dinner at the Boca Raton, Florida, home of financier Marc Leder.
Family and friends often say that Romney, who can be awkward while campaigning, is at ease and funny when the cameras are off— or believed to be.
“You’re not eating,” Romney scolded one attendee during his remarks at the fundraiser.
“I’m mesmerized,” the donor said.
“He’s bored to tears,” Romney said to laughter.
At one point, Romney decided to give the donor a lesson in eating.
“You take this, your fork, and you put it in,” Romney said.
When asked about Democrats’ criticisms of his tenure as a wealthy executive at Bain Capital, Romney pretended to plead poverty.
“I’m poor as a church mouse,” said Romney, who has an estimated fortune of $250 million.
Romney also gossiped about CBS late-night talk show host David Letterman, a frequent critic of the Republican. Romney said he preferred Jay Leno, host of NBC’s “The Tonight Show with Jay Leno.”
“Letterman hates me because I’ve been on Leno more than him. They are very jealous of each other, you know,” Romney said.
By coincidence, a few hours after the video’s release online, Obama arrived in New York City to tape an interview with Letterman.
Romney said he turned down an appearance on NBC’s “Saturday Night Live” because visiting the show “has the potential of looking slapstick and not presidential.”
Days before the election in 2008, Republican presidential candidate John McCain and his running mate, Sarah Palin, flew to New York to be on the show.
At the Florida fundraiser, Romney’s comments were captured by a videocamera that had been placed on what appeared to be a marble bar.
Waiters wearing white gloves were seen serving the guests red wine from decanters. For most of the video, only the backs of donors’ heads can be seen, with Romney in profile.
The audio does, however, pick up donors’ comments to Romney, including some good-natured ribbing about his image on the campaign trail.
“They say, ‘He’s a rich boy,’” one donor affably told Romney during the dinner.
The comments reflected donors’ anxieties about Romney’s perceived deficiencies.
One donor complained of the difficulties of converting Obama supporters to Romney’s side.
“Right now I’m very concerned,” she said. “Women do not want to vote for you. Islamics, the majority, do not want to vote for you. College students don’t.”
“Why don’t you stick up for yourself?” a male donor asked Romney.
“You have to show your face more on TV,” said another.
A third donor counselled Romney on the importance of social media.
A fourth donor urged Romney to “take the gloves off and talk to the people who actually read the paper.”
When Romney responded to their reservations by telling the guests about the importance of his three debates against Obama in October, a donor cut him off.
“You will do so well,” the donor said. “Your debates are incredible.”
Editing by David Lindsey and Prudence Crowther