WASHINGTON (AP) — Sen. Dean Heller of Nevada distanced himself Wednesday from fellow Republican Mitt Romney's comments that 47 percent of Americans are dependent on the government.
Democrats had tried to tie Heller and other Republicans to Romney's comments, which were secretly recorded as he spoke to donors in May. In the footage, Romney goes on to say that it's not his job to convince "those people" to take responsibility for their lives.
Democrat Shelley Berkley, who presents a strong challenge to Heller's re-election bid, said Heller and Romney read from the same script when it comes to the middle class. Those are fighting words in a state with the nation's highest unemployment rate and a close Senate race that could help decide which party controls the chamber next year.
"I do believe the federal government has certain responsibilities. One of those responsibilities is building bridges and roads, and national defense," Heller said Wednesday in Washington. "I also believe in a safety net for individuals who need the help, so that's why I would respectfully disagree with the comments that (Romney) made."
Heller pointed out that his mom was a school cafeteria cook, so that he had a "different view of the world" than Romney.
Like other Republicans grappling with the political fallout seven weeks out from Election Day, Heller sought to change the subject to comments that President Barack Obama made in 1998 about believing in some redistribution of wealth to make sure everyone has a chance.
"If I work hard in this country, will I be rewarded? This president says, 'No, you won't be rewarded. You're going to have to give that to someone else,'" Heller said. "That's the issue. That's what everybody is talking about in Nevada."
Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., also sought to associate Heller with Romney's comments, recalling that in 2010, Heller questioned whether federal policies on extending unemployment insurance for the long-term unemployed were creating hobos.
"I think he recognized how toxic Romney's comments are, but that's interesting coming from someone who just a short time ago compared the unemployed people to hobos," said Reid, Nevada's other senator. "That was his word: hobos."