Fresh from a much-needed debate victory, Republican challenger Mitt Romney said his earlier remarks dismissing 47 percent of Americans as government dependents were "completely wrong."
The admission came amid a campaign reset that shocked Democrat Barack Obama at Wednesday's debate, in which his invigorated rival for the White House vowed to fight for middle class families that Romney said were being "crushed" by the president's policies.
"Clearly in a campaign with hundreds if not thousands of speeches and question and answer sessions, now and then you are going to say something (that) doesn't come out right," Romney told Fox News late Thursday.
"In this case, I said something that's just completely wrong. I absolutely believe, however, that my life has shown that I care about the 100 percent."
US Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney speaks during campaign rally on October 4, 2012 in Fishersville, Virginia. Romney said his earlier remarks dismissing 47 percent of Americans as government dependents were "completely wrong."
The video released last month by the liberal Mother Jones website showed Romney, in a closed-door gathering with wealthy donors, saying that 47 percent of Americans paid no income taxes, viewed themselves as victims and would vote for Obama in order to keep getting government handouts.
Romney admitted when the remarks surfaced in mid-September that they were "not elegantly stated", but he slid in the polls leading many to wonder if the video had torpedoed his years-long quest for the presidency.
But on Wednesday an energized Romney delivered a surprisingly strong performance in the first of three presidential debates opposite a listless Obama, injecting new momentum into his campaign ahead of the November 6 vote.
To the surprise of many supporters, Obama did not mention the "47 percent" remarks during the debate.
On Thursday Obama went on the attack at big rallies in Colorado and Wisconsin, delivering the verbal blows he missed the previous night and trying to prevent his Republican opponent from gaining a boost in the polls.
The president beseeched voters not to be duped by the suave debater seen by 67 million television viewers, but to focus on the "real Mitt Romney" who he said promised tax cuts for the rich and cared little for teachers.
"If you want to be president, you owe the American people the truth," a fired-up Obama told supporters anxious not to see him fritter away his opinion poll lead with less than five weeks to go before election day.
Obama aides admitted that they needed to take a hard look at their strategy before the next debate on October 16, but accused Romney of flagrant distortions that made it hard to pin him down during the debate.
President Barack Obama came out swinging at the "the real Mitt Romney" Thursday, saying Americans are owed "the truth" as he sought to contain damage from a lackluster debate performance. Duration: 01:02
Romney celebrated his debate coup with a surprise visit to a conservative conference in the Colorado city of Denver, and warned that Obama's economic policies would take America down a slippery slope to the fate of debt-laden Europe.
"I saw the president's vision as trickle-down government, and I don't think that's what America believes in," Romney said. "I see instead a prosperity that comes through freedom."
Romney continued his victory lap in the vital swing state of Virginia, with his vice presidential nominee Paul Ryan in tow.
The Republican ticket later gained the endorsement of the National Rifle Association, the biggest gun rights lobby in the United States.
Obama, however, sought to capitalize on openings he missed against the well-prepared Romney, including his vow to end government subsidies for PBS television, the stomping ground of famed Sesame Street character Big Bird.
"He would get rid of regulations on Wall Street, but he's gonna crack down on Sesame Street. Thank goodness somebody is finally cracking down on Big Bird," Obama quipped at a rally in the picturesque Wisconsin college town of Madison.
In a hiccup for the normally smooth Obama machine Thursday, the campaign missed a chance to highlight its biggest crowd so far -- 30,000 -- in Madison, Wisconsin, after an airport delay in Denver caused reporters to miss the event.
Obama could suffer a new jolt on Friday with the release of the latest set of monthly jobs figures, which are not expected to break a trend of disappointing data generated by a sluggish recovery.
In August, the unemployment rate fell to 8.1 percent but only 94,000 net new jobs were created, adding fuel to Romney's claims that Obama has run out of ideas to speed up the economic recovery.