A day that was supposed to see Mitt Romney reboot his faltering presidential campaign ended in disarray, after he was caught telling a room full of wealthy donors "my job is not to worry" about attempting to appeal to poor people.
Hidden camera footage of the event, said to be a dinner attended by 30 of the Republican candidate's biggest fundraisers, saw him dismiss 47pc of Americans as freeloaders who "pay no income tax" and behave like "victims".
Romney claimed that the overwhelming majority of voters who support Barack Obama's do so because they are "dependent" on government.
"There are 47pc of the people who will vote for the President no matter what, all right?" he said. "There are 47pc who are with him, who are dependent upon government, who believe that they are victims, who believe the government has a responsibility to care for them, who believe that they are entitled to health care, to food, to housing, to you-name-it."
"These are people who pay no income tax... My job is not to worry about those people. I'll never convince them they should take personal responsibility and care for their lives."
The remarks are remarkable since Romney gives few interviews and is usually scripted.
After being shared on the left-leaning Mother Jones website, videos of the event rapidly went viral last night.
Romney's spokesman did not initially comment, but Obama's campaign pounced on them as further evidence of Romney's elitism and called the speech "shocking".
"It's hard to serve as President for all Americans when you've disdainfully written off half the nation," they said.
It was too early to say how the comments will effect voter sentiment. The snowballing scandal capped a day that had begun with Romney insisting that there will be no changes to his inner circle, despite weeks of flat-lining poll numbers.