Former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney gestures while delivering remarks at the Heritage Foundation in Washington, Monday, June 1, 2009. (AP Photo/Manuel Balce Ceneta)
FLORIDA (CNN) -- Fresh off a momentum-building victory in the Florida primary, Mitt Romney made a potential speaking gaffe Wednesday when he said he "wasn't concerned about the very poor" because there is a safety net in place for them.
The comment in an interview with CNN focused new attention on the ability of Romney, a multimillionaire, to connect with ordinary voters as he seeks the Republican presidential nomination to run against President Barack Obama in November.
Romney cemented his status as the GOP front-runner in the Florida vote Tuesday, winning the bitterly contested primary with 46% support, compared with 32% for Newt Gingrich, 13% for Rick Santorum and 7% for Ron Paul, according to the Florida Department of State.
The victory gave Romney all 50 of Florida's convention delegates and, more important, new momentum heading into a series of caucuses and primaries building up to Super Tuesday on March 6, when 10 states will hold nominating contests.
A national poll released Wednesday showed some immediate benefit for Romney, putting him in first place at 31% to 26% for Gingrich, 16% for Santorum and 11% for Paul.
The Gallup daily tracking poll previously had Gingrich ahead of Romney after the former House speaker won South Carolina's primary on January 21st.
Both Romney and Gingrich headed west on Wednesday to begin campaigning in Nevada, Minnesota and other states with upcoming contests.
The Florida win "feels pretty darn good," Romney told CNN on Wednesday morning, calling the state a "microcosm of the nation" in some respects. However, Romney said in response to a question that he's not worried about the plight of the poorest Americans.
"I'm not concerned about the very poor," he said. "We have a safety net there. If it needs repair, I'll fix it. I'm not concerned about the very rich; they're doing just fine. I'm concerned about the very heart of America, the 90%, 95% of Americans right now who are struggling, and I'll continue to take that message across the nation."
When pressed by CNN anchor Soledad O'Brien about his remark about the very poor, Romney cited food stamps, Medicaid and housing vouchers.
"You can choose where to focus," he said. "You can focus on the rich; that's not my focus. You can focus on the very poor; that's not my focus. My focus is on middle-income Americans."
Later, Romney told reporters that his initial remarks needed to be kept in context.
"You've got to take the whole sentence, (or else) it sounds very different," he said. "We have a safety net for the poor. ... If there are people that are falling through the cracks, I want to fix that."
The comment evoked memories of previous Romney statements that prompted criticism, such as when he said at a campaign event that he liked to fire people who provided poor service.
In addition, Romney initially resisted releasing his tax returns until pressured by Gingrich and others but then had to defend his millions invested in offshore accounts and his 13% effective tax rate.
Gingrich responded to the Romney gaffe by criticizing candidates on both sides, referring also to Obama when he said, "I am fed up with politicians in either party dividing Americans against each other."
The Florida victory gave Romney new prominence, with a federal law enforcement source telling CNN that the former Massachusetts governor will receive Secret Service protection "within days."
Romney also got "glitter-bombed" Wednesday before and after a campaign event in Eagan, Minnesota, joking to supporters that it was confetti celebrating his Florida victory.
"Oh, I've got glitter in my hair," Romney said at the start of his remarks. "That's not all that's in my hair. I'll tell you that. I glue it on every morning, whether I need it or not."
In full campaign mode, Romney immediately shifted the focus to Obama, saying the president won't be seeing any confetti after the November election. Questioning whether Obama was "detached from reality," Romney said the presidential election will be crucial for determining the nation's direction.
"This is really a watershed time for America to decide what we are going to be, and I believe that Americans want to have a president who understands how the economy works, who understands how people are suffering now and will use every ounce of his energy and passion to get Americans back to work with good jobs and rising incomes," Romney said.
A t the end, another person threw glitter from a Pringles can on Romney. The demonstrators from Glitterati and Occupy Minneapolis, who have done the same to other Republican figures, protested Romney's funding for his Mormon church, which they said opposed gay marriage.
In Nevada, Gingrich said he was campaigning to win the caucuses on Saturday even though Romney is considered the favorite in a state he won in 2008, due in part to a big population of fellow Mormons.
"He has a big advantage here, but nonetheless, I'd rather come in first," Gingrich said. "I've never been satisfied coming in less than first."