The 2012 election may have officially devolved into class warfare.
While both Republicans and Democrats have accused the other of pitting one group of Americans against another for political gain, separate videos of Mitt Romney and President Obama leaked to the media this week has moved the issue of class -- and the role of government in individual lives -- to the forefront of the campaign and could, political analysts said, color the remaining seven weeks of the campaign.
"To a certain degree, the rhetoric that is being employed in this election is certainly more based on a class division theme," said Baylor University political science professor Curt Nichols. "It's the rich against the poor."
The video of Romney shows him privately telling his campaign contributors that 47 percent of Americans are "dependent on government" and "believe they are victims." Democrats seized on the tape as evidence that Romney favors the rich and would do little or nothing for the poor or middle class, and even some Republicans cringed at Romney's depiction of such a large segment of the electorate.
A day later, however, a video of Obama emerged. It shows Obama speaking at Loyola University in 1998 and declaring, "I actually believe in redistribution" of wealth.
"I think the trick is figuring out how do we structure government systems that pool resources and hence facilitate some redistribution because I actually believe in redistribution, at least at a certain level, to make sure everybody's got a shot," Obama said.
Republicans seized on that tape as evidence that Obama would take money away from hard-working Americans who succeed and give it to others.
Their fight spilled over to the Senate on Wednesday.
Soon after the Senate gaveled into session, the chamber's majority leader, Harry Reid, D-Nev., ran with the theme, quoting from the leaked Romney video and declaring, "If Mitt Romney were president, he wouldn't waste time worrying about the 47 percent of Americans who he believes are victims, who Romney believes are unwilling to take personal responsibility," Reid said. "He'll only worry about how the other half lives, I guess."
Republicans, meanwhile, have been circulating the Obama tape along with a string of comments from the president and his staff that Republicans say prove his administration's policies advocate redistribution of wealth.
The evidence, according to the Republican National Committee, includes comments from Obama senior adviser Valerie Jarrett that unemployment checks "help stimulate the economy." Another quotes Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack asserting that food stamps equate to more jobs.
"Obama's priorities prioritize dependency over prosperity," an RNC memo released Wednesday declares.
Republicans, however, appear far more nervous about their own side of the argument.
Sens. Scott Brown and Dean Heller, both Republicans running for re-election in swing states, have disavowed Romney's comments, as have several GOP candidates and New Mexico's Republican Governor, Susana Martinez, who spoke at Romney's nominating convention last month.
"What I think is going on is this comment has sparked a pre-existing supposition in a lot of people's minds that confirms what they have already thought" about Republicans, Nichols said.
In a Wednesday op-ed piece in USA Today, Romney attempted to walk back his exclusion of the 47 percent, though he doesn't mention the comments specifically.
"Instead of creating a web of dependency, I will pursue policies that grow our economy and lift Americans out of poverty," he wrote.