* Romney scrambles to react to immigration decision
* Supports similar plan but blasts Obama
* Reaching out to rural white voters
By Ros Krasny
MILFORD, N.H., June 15 Republican presidential
candidate Mitt Romney's rural bus tour hit an unexpected bump on
Friday as he scrambled to respond to President Barack Obama's
decision to ease deportation rules for young illegal immigrants.
On a day when Romney wanted to emphasize the gap between the
president and regular Americans, he instead was forced to
step warily into the immigration debate after Obama announced
new rules that would allow children of illegal immigrants to
stay in the country on a temporary basis.
Romney criticized Obama's decision as a temporary patch,
even as he backed a Republican proposal that bears many
similarities to Obama's approach.
"I think the action that the president took today makes it
more difficult to reach (a) long-term solution because an
executive order is, of course, just a short-term matter - it can
be reversed by subsequent presidents," Romney said in a brief
statement to reporters.
Romney spoke on the first day of a bus tour that will reach
out to rural, largely white voters who form an important pillar
of the Republican Party. The November election is expected to be
close, and analysts say the candidate who does a better job of
rallying loyal supporters will have a big advantage.
Romney has been riding a burst of momentum as he has quickly
united his party after a divisive battle for the Republican
nomination. Polls show he has narrowed the gap with Obama and he
raised more money than the incumbent Democrat last month.
Obama, meanwhile, has struggled to overcome a string of
economic and political setbacks in recent weeks that adds up to
the roughest patch of his presidency since last summer's
POWER OF THE PRESIDENCY
But as president, Obama has crucial advantages that cannot
be overlooked - not just the aura of the office but the power to
change the debate with the stroke of a pen.
Obama's decision could spare about 800,000 young illegal
immigrants who came to the United States as children - a move
likely to energize the Hispanic voters who helped lift him to
victory in 2008. Obama has enthused other elements of his
coalition in recent weeks by announcing his support for gay
marriage and pushing to keep interest rates on student loans
The immigration move puts Romney in a tricky spot.
Courting conservatives in the Republican primary, Romney
said illegal immigrants should voluntarily leave the country and
criticized a rival, Texas Governor. Rick Perry, for backing
policies that would allow children of illegal immigrants to get
financial aid for college tuition in that state.
That uncompromising position could hurt him in
Hispanic-heavy battleground states like Nevada and Florida.
Romney said he agreed with a plan advanced by Republican
Senator Marco Rubio to grant children of illegal immigrants a
visa, not amnesty - a position that bears similarities to
If elected, Romney said he would do his best to find a
"long-term solution that provides certainty and clarity for the
people who come into this country through no fault of their own
by virtue of the action of their parents."
Support for the Rubio plan could awaken misgivings from
conservatives who view Romney's past as a moderate governor of
liberal Massachusetts with suspicion.
Obama's move also could inspire a backlash from some
Republicans that could further alienate Hispanics, a
fast-growing voting bloc that favored Obama by a 3-to-1 ratio in
"I do think that there will be elements of the Republican
Party ... that will rise to the bait and undoubtedly say
something that gets at least into a permanent loop on MSNBC,"
the liberal cable TV channel, said Southern Methodist University
professor Cal Jillson.
At the very least, Obama's move hijacked the agenda on the
day that Romney returned to the New Hampshire farm where he
started his presidential bid a year ago.
"Washington's big government agenda should not smother
small-town dreams. In the America we love, every town counts,"
he told a crowd of about 800 in Stratham, the first stop of the
Romney hopes to keep the focus on Obama's stewardship of the
economy, which many voters view as a disappointment. A
Reuters/Ipsos poll released on Tuesday found that although Obama
maintains a narrow lead over Romney, more voters think that
Romney would do a better job managing the economy.
Romney pointed out that wages have fallen and poverty has
risen since Obama took office in January 2009, while the United
States has taken on an unprecedented amount of debt that could
compromise the living standards of future generations.
"If there has ever been a president who has failed to give
the middle class of America a fair shot, it is Barack Obama,"
Although Romney remains a blank slate for many voters, the
Obama campaign hopes to tie him to former President George W.
Bush, who remains unpopular. Polls indicate that voters blame
Bush more than Obama for the struggling economy.
"President Obama wants to do what we can to invest in the
middle class, create more jobs and grow our economy. And Romney
wants to take us back to the same failed policies that have
benefited a few and helped to crash our economy in the first
place," Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa, a Democrat, told
reporters on a conference call organized by the Obama campaign.
Romney's bus tour will visit six states captured by Obama in
the 2008 election that are considered winnable for Republicans
this fall. Along the way, he will be joined by a roster of
prominent Republicans who are seen as top contenders for a vice
presidential position, including Senator Kelly Ayotte of New
Hampshire, Senator Rob Portman of Ohio and Representative Paul
Ryan of Wisconsin.
It is Romney's first stint of intense campaigning after
weeks in which fundraising events took priority.