09/19/2012 04:42 EDT | Updated 11/19/2012 05:12 EST

Congressional Republicans fear Romney's gaffes are hurting their Nov. 6 prospects

WASHINGTON - Republicans are in apparent panic mode in the wake of Mitt Romney's very bad summer, particularly over the latest firestorm engulfing his campaign after he was secretly filmed deriding almost half of Americans as government mooches.

Several Senate Republicans in tight battles against Democrats were quick to publicly distance themselves from Romney's four-month-old remarks that the 47 per cent of Americans who don't pay income tax are freeloaders who expect Uncle Sam to take care of them.

In fact, most of those 47 per cent don't make enough money to pay income tax or are seniors or military veterans on government assistance. They also pay payroll and other taxes.

Romney was attempting to explain to the US$50,000-a-plate fundraiser why a certain segment of Americans won't vote for him.

On the campaign trail on Wednesday, Romney once again took pains to explain himself.

"(Obama) really believes in what I'll call a government-centred society," he said in Atlanta, accusing Obama of advocating the redistribution of wealth in America.

"I know there are some who believe that if you simply take from some and give to others, then we'll all be better off. It's known as redistribution. It's never been a characteristic of America ... I believe the way to lift people, and help people have higher incomes, is not to take from some and give to others but to create wealth for all."

Nonetheless the silence was deafening on the Senate floor on Wednesday when Democrats maligned Romney for his latest public relations disaster. Republican senators offered up no defence of their candidate for the White House.

"This week we learned that Mitt Romney only wants to be president of half of the United States," said Senate majority leader Harry Reid, a thorn in Romney's side ever since he alleged in the same chamber earlier this summer that the millionaire presidential hopeful didn't pay income tax for 10 years.

"He'll only worry about how the other half lives, I guess."

Romney's apparent disdain for his fellow citizens impeaches his candidacy, Reid added before renewing his call on Romney to release more tax returns.

"For all we know, Mitt Romney could be one of those who has paid no federal income tax," he said.

"We'll never know since he refuses to release his tax returns for the years before he was running for president ... We can only imagine what new secrets would be revealed if he showed the American people a dozen years of tax returns, like his dad did."

Sen. Dick Durbin, the Democratic party whip, recited a lengthy list of some of Romney's "greatest hits."

"We remember the highlights: 'Corporations are people, my friend,' he said. 'I like being able to fire people,' he said. 'I'm not concerned about the very poor,' Romney said. 'I'm also unemployed,' Romney said.'"

Republicans did not respond.

Instead, Mitch McConnell, Senate minority leader, made a statement about Burma. Other Republicans focused on the Democrats' failure to pass a budget.

Outside the august chamber, however, Capitol Hill was abuzz with speculation among fearful Republicans that Romney's gaffes are seriously jeopardizing the party's efforts to wrest the Senate back from Democrats on Nov. 6.

Tea Party leaders who helped propel Republicans to big gains in 2010's mid-term elections are urging their supporters to keep the faith.

As always, the media was cast as the biggest villain in Romney's struggles.

"Several people mentioned to us that the media seems to be trying to make them believe we have no hope," Ron and Kay Rivoli, faith-based singer/songwriters on the Tea Party Express bus tour, wrote in an email to supporters.

"Folks, the liberal media is lying. They are trying to make you feel defeated so you won't bother going to the polls to vote. But there is hope and that hope is in Mitt Romney and Paul Ryan."

They urged voters to "take back our White House and end the socialist agenda of Barack Obama."

Another Tea Party adherent urged supporters not to give up hope, using particularly dramatic language that took aim not just at "socialists" but at fellow Republicans.

"Over the last several weeks, I have received emails from some of our supporters who say they think the system is so broken it cannot be fixed and our efforts are futile," Jenny Beth Martin, co-founder of the Tea Party Patriots, said in her email.

"They are angry at the Republican nominee who does not fight hard enough for our core values. They are angry at the Republican 'leadership' in the House who are spineless and unable to make any real spending cuts."

Martin urged her group to stay focused on defeating Obama and to ensure "our country's voters choose the future of freedom on November 6."

It's not all doom and gloom for Republicans this week, however.

A spate of new polls suggest Obama's post-convention bounce in public opinion surveys has all but evaporated over the past week.

According to most surveys, he and Romney are once again running neck and neck nationally, although a Pew Research Center poll had Obama at 51 per cent nationally compared to Romney at 43.

But a handful of other polls released Wednesday also show Obama leading in key battleground states, including Virginia, Ohio, Florida and Wisconsin. The president has also managed to erase Romney's lead in Colorado, with the men now in a statistical tie.