US Republican presidential candidate Romney pauses during at a rally outside Pittsburgh, (Photo: Reuters).
Mitt Romney is shifting from the deep conservatism he displayed before wrapping up the Republican presidential nomination toward a more centrist platform — an effort to appeal to independent voters who will decide whether he or President Barack Obama wins in November.
With main challenger Rick Santorum leaving the Republican contest earlier this month, Romney is all but certain to sweep primaries in five states Tuesday, marking a symbolic closure of the party's nomination process.
As voters in New York, Connecticut, Delaware, Rhode Island and Pennsylvania cast ballots, the former Massachusetts governor won't be in any of those states for an expected victory celebration. Instead, he will return to New Hampshire, the state where a sweeping primary victory in January set him on the path to the nomination.
Romney plans a speech he's titled "A Better America Begins Tonight." The speech, aides say, represents a definitive pivot away from the primary contest and toward the campaign against Obama.
Romney was drawn to the right on issues like immigration as he fought off challenges from other Republicans. On Monday, he signaled he was considering a wider range of immigration policies, including a proposal from Sen. Marco Rubio of Florida that would allow some young illegal immigrants a chance at visas to stay and study in the U.S. while denying them an opportunity to become citizens.
Romney on Monday appeared alongside Rubio, a Cuban-American who is considered a top potential pick for vice president not only because of his conservative credentials but also because he is seen as being able to draw badly needed support from the Latino community.
Romney still has to walk a careful line because he is viewed warily by the party's conservative base for his shifting positions on such issues as abortion and gay rights. At the same time, he has to begin making inroads to reduce the big lead Obama has among Hispanic, women and young voters.
Romney on Monday expressed his support for a key issue for younger Americans — a temporary extension of lower interest rates for student loans.
That came just as Obama, who also supports the extension, embarks Tuesday on a tour through college campuses in North Carolina, Colorado and Iowa — three states strategically important to his re-election bid. Obama carried all three in 2008, but the states also could swing to Romney and help decide a close 2012 election.
Obama's tour is intended to rally the young supporters he needs again in November.
The economy is the big issue in this election, and both Obama and Romney are fighting for the support of voters buried in college debt.
The national debt amassed on student loans is higher than that for credit cards or auto loans. The Federal Reserve Bank of New York has estimated about 15 percent of Americans, or 37 million people, have outstanding student loan debt.
Both Obama and Romney are now on record for freezing the current interest rates on a popular federal loan for low-income and middle-class students. The issue is looming because the rate will double from 3.4 percent to 6.8 percent on July 1 unless Congress acts to extend the lower rate.
The president speaks Tuesday at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and the University of Colorado at Boulder, and then the University of Iowa on Wednesday.