Mitt Romney has accused President Barack Obama of fostering a "web of dependency" amid an increasingly bitter electoral battle over their competing visions of the government's role in society.
Under attack over videotaped comments dismissing 47 percent of Americans as freeloaders relying on government handouts, the Republican presidential nominee regrouped and insisted his policies would help the entire country to prosper.
"My course for the American economy will encourage private investment and personal freedom," Romney wrote in an opinion piece Wednesday in USA Today.
"Instead of creating a web of dependency, I will pursue policies that grow our economy and lift Americans out of poverty."
He doubled down on the concept at a high-end Atlanta fundraiser — the third such event in two days — as he accused Obama of favoring big government policies that blunt individual initiative.
America "does not work by a government saying: 'become dependent on government, become dependent upon redistribution.' That will kill the American entrepreneurship that's lifted our economy over the years," Romney told donors.
"The question of this campaign is not who cares about the poor and the middle class," a fiery Romney added, tapping the pulpit for emphasis.
"I do. He does. The question is who can help the poor and the middle class. I can — he can't!"
Romney trails in the polls with just 48 days to go before the 6 November elections. Deficits in Ohio and Florida are especially worrying for the Republican challenger, as the two battleground states could decide the race.
He has acknowledged that the bombshell comments at a May fundraiser — secretly videotaped, and then made public this week by Mother Jones magazine — were poorly phrased.
But the former Massachusetts governor and his campaign have stepped up their attacks on social welfare "entitlements" as they seek to frame a philosophical debate over the choices facing Americans.
In doing so they seized on a 14-year-old audio recording in which Obama, then a state senator in Illinois, can be heard advocating government-backed wealth redistribution.
"The trick is figuring out how do we structure government systems that pool resources and hence facilitate some redistribution because I actually believe in redistribution, at least at a certain level, to make sure everybody's got a shot," Obama says in the audio.
The White House responded Wednesday by saying Romney's camp was adopting "desperate" tactics that were examples of a campaign "having a very bad day or a very bad week."
The Obama campaign later tried to turn the tables, saying Romney "doesn't have a plan to strengthen the middle class; he only has a plan to redistribute hard-earned middle class income to those at the top."
Romney, who has held a series of fundraisers — including one in Georgia on Wednesday that netted $2-million, according to aides — flew to swing state Florida to hold his first public event since late last week.
In Miami, sounding a note of inclusion that belied the tension coursing through the campaign in recent days, Romney courted Hispanic voters, saying he would be president "for the 100 percent" of Americans.
"I care about the 100 percent," he told viewers of Spanish language network Univision. "People in America are going to have a better future if they elect me the next president."
Hispanics comprise the largest minority in the country, and with Romney trailing slightly according to several polls, peeling Latino voters away from Obama is crucial, particularly in key states such as Florida.
It has been a difficult period for the nominee, who has fended off a backlash from Republicans worried about his gaffe-plagued bid, with conservative writer Peggy Noonan calling the campaign "incompetent."
"An intervention is in order. 'Mitt, this isn't working,'" The Wall Street Journal columnist wrote in a blog post earlier this week.
Last week, Romney sparked a furor by accusing the administration of sympathizing with Islamic militants hours after an attack on the US consulate in Benghazi that killed four Americans, including US Ambassador Chris Stevens.
The controversial fundraising video, and reports of internal campaign disarray, plunged team Romney into deeper turmoil, but the decision to embrace the anti-dependency message appears to have steadied the ship.
Romney's White House running mate Paul Ryan moved to back-up the Republican economic strategy going into the race's home stretch.
"Mitt Romney and I are not running to redistribute the wealth. Mitt Romney and I are running to help Americans create wealth," Ryan told supporters in Virginia, another election battleground state.