Romney looks toward election
Manchester - Mitt Romney has started turning toward the centre in recent days, beginning the process of appealing to independent voters in the wake of a brutal Republican primary contest to determine the challenger to President Barack Obama in the November election.
Romney is all but certain to sweep five presidential primaries on Tuesday, marking a nearly definitive end to the Republican nomination process.
Voters in New York, Connecticut, Delaware, Rhode Island and Pennsylvania will cast ballots on Tuesday. But the former Massachusetts governor won't be in any of those states on Tuesday night.
Instead, he'll return to New Hampshire, the state where a sweeping primary victory in January set him down the path to the Republican presidential nomination.
From the Radisson Hotel downtown, Romney plans a speech he's titled "A Better America Begins Tonight". The general election speech, aides say, will represent a definitive pivot away from the primary contest and toward the campaign against Obama.
Romney has been the party's presumptive nominee since his closest rival, former Pennsylvania Senator Rick Santorum, dropped out of the race earlier this month.
Romney was drawn to the right on issues like immigration as he fought off challenges from other Republicans.
On Monday, he signalled he was considering a wider range of immigration policies, including a proposal from Senator Marco Rubio of Florida that would allow some young illegal immigrants a chance at visas to stay in the US while denying them an opportunity to become citizens.
Romney appeared alongside Rubio, a Cuban-American senator 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 shore-up badly needed support from the Latino community.
Romney also embraced a temporary extension of lower interest rates for student loans, a policy opposed by Republican members of the House of Representatives but backed by Obama.
Romney announced his support for that proposal as he campaigned in Pennsylvania a day before its Republican primary.
While Pennsylvania is a battleground state in the general election, his campaign visits on Sunday night and Monday were largely scheduled before Santorum left the race and the primary in Santorum's home state was still competitive.
There are a total of 209 delegates to the Republican national nominating convention at stake on Tuesday.
Romney has to walk a careful line because he is still viewed warily by the party's conservative base because of 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 who propelled the Democrat to victory in 2008.
Obama, meanwhile, is intent on holding on to those constituencies. His Tuesday-Wednesday tour through college campuses in North Carolina, Colorado and Iowa - three states strategically important to his re-election bid - is intended to rally the young supporters he needs again in November by touting his effort to keep the cost of college loans from soaring for millions of students.
Both Obama and Romney are now on record for freezing the current interest rates on a popular federal loan for poorer and middle-class students.
The issue is looming because the rate will double from 3.4% to 6.8% on 1 July without intervention by Congress, an expiration date chosen in 2007 when a Democratic Congress voted to chop the rate in half.
College debt vote
The president speaks on 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. All three universities are in states that Obama carried in 2008, and all three states are considered among the several that could swing to Obama or Romney and help decide a close 2012 election.
Both campaigns 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% of Americans, or 37 million people, have outstanding student loan debt. The banks put the total at $870bn, though other estimates have reached $1 trillion.
Obama, previewing the message he will give at all three colleges, said over the weekend that allowing the interest rates to double this summer would hurt more than 7 million students.
"That would be a tremendous blow," Obama said. "And it's completely preventable."
Romney agreed with that conclusion even in the midst of blasting Obama's economic leadership. "Given the bleak job prospects that young Americans coming out of college face today, I encourage Congress to temporarily extend the low rate," Romney said in a statement.
Obama carried voters between the ages of 18-29 by a margin of about 2-to-1 in 2008, but many recent college graduates have faced high levels of unemployment. That raises concerns for the president about whether they will vote and volunteer for him in such large numbers again.