October 2, 2012 / 7:50 PM / in 5 years

CORRECTED-A gentler Romney tweaks his stance on immigration ahead of debate

(Corrects size of poll lead to five points from four in paragraph 9)

* Romney will not overturn Obama immigration order

* Courting Hispanic voters in swing state

* First debate on Wednesday

By Sam Youngman

DENVER, Oct 2 (Reuters) - U.S. Republican Mitt Romney softened his position on immigration, the latest effort to present a gentler side to voters as he takes on President Barack Obama in a high-stakes debate.

Trailing in many polls, Romney is widely seen as needing to score a win at the televised debate in Denver on Wednesday night when the two men will square off over domestic issues like the economy, immigration and healthcare.

The former Massachusetts governor is struggling to score points with independent voters on immigration after suggesting in the Republican primaries that some 12 million undocumented workers should “self-deport” out of the United States.

In a new stance, Romney told The Denver Post in an interview that appeared in Tuesday’s newspaper that he would not overturn an order by Obama in June that allows hundreds of thousands of illegal immigrants brought to the United States as children to stay in the country.

“The people who have received the special visa that the president has put in place, which is a two-year visa, should expect that the visa would continue to be valid. I‘m not going to take something that they’ve purchased,” Romney said.

Romney had previously not said whether he would reverse Obama’s order, instead promising to put in place an immigration reform of his own that would make that kind of action unnecessary.

His softer stance on immigration looked aimed at courting the Hispanic vote which will likely be key in Colorado -- a swing state -- in the Nov. 6 election. Nationally, Obama leads Romney among Hispanic voters by as much as 40 percentage points.

It is part of a bid by Romney’s campaign to present a more empathetic face to voters after the former businessman was seen on a secretly recorded video deriding almost half of the electorate as dependent on federal aid.

A Reuters/Ipsos poll on Tuesday showed Obama’s lead over the Republican at five points, or 46-41 percent. Obama was ahead by seven points last week and five points on Monday in the online survey.

Last week, Romney told voters in battleground state Ohio that his “heart aches” for the jobless and he has been bolder in defending his 2006 healthcare reform in Massachusetts as evidence that he cares for ordinary people.


He and Obama will hold the first of three debates on Wednesday night with the Democrat appearing to have the momentum in the campaign despite high unemployment and criticism of his Middle East policy after last month’s killing of the U.S. ambassador to Libya.

“The Romney campaign still seems to be trying to find a Plan B for going after the incumbent,” said Dante Scala, a political science professor at the University of New Hampshire.

Obama’s campaign accused the Republican of confusing voters about whether he supports allowing the children of illegal immigrants to stay in the United States.

“There are a lot of questions that were raised about that interview. Again, it’s not showing a huge amount of courage to give a confusing answer on an issue that’s been around for more than 100 days,” spokeswoman Jen Psaki said in Nevada.

Romney’s comments may risk alienating conservative voters who applauded his earlier stand against illegal immigration.

“Problem is, the real conservative base will reel him back in. Talk radio will be on him by (Tuesday) afternoon,” said Larry Berman, a professor of political science at Georgia State University.

Despite Romney’s new course on immigration, vice presidential running mate Paul Ryan has taken a harder tone. The Wisconsin congressman has vowed that Romney would overturn the kind of White House order that Obama used in offering work permits to the children of illegal immigrants.

“Here’s the great thing about a Mitt Romney presidency. For an executive order that came from the last president, the new president can undo it,” Ryan told voters in Lima, Ohio on Sept. 24. “We’re planning that,” he said to applause.

Speaking in Iowa on Tuesday, Ryan was quizzed by a voter about a Fox News interview last weekend when he said he could not quickly explain to the interviewer which tax loopholes he and Romney would scrap to allow them to cut tax rates.

“Why aren’t you more specific? I heard you, was it Sunday when you were on Fox? And you didn’t answer his question about what are your plans,” the woman asked.

Ryan said: “When you get into a math conversation, it can take a little while” and added, “There is plenty of fiscal room to keep these important preferences for middle class taxpayers, you know like charitable donations or buying a home or healthcare.” (Additional reporting by Samuel P. Jacobs in Washington and Jeff Mason in Nevada; Editing by Alistair Bell and Cynthia Osterman)

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