DAVENPORT, Iowa – Mitt Romney introduced criticism of President Obama’s record on illegal immigration into his standard campaign speech on Monday as he wrapped up a swing across eastern Iowa.
Romney had avoided bringing up the topic in remarks to supporters at the eight other rallies he has held since Obama announced Friday that the administration would halt deportations of many young illegal immigrants who came to the United States as children.
At the Davenport rally, Romney led up to the immigration attack by accusing Obama of neglecting the economy and the deficit while going to work on Obamacare, organized labor’s effort to expand its ranks and the banking overhaul known as Dodd-Frank.
“He went after all the things that he and his liberal friends had been trying to do for years,” Romney told a few hundred flag-waving supporters here at a Mississippi River waterfront bandshell rally, where his campaign was shooting TV commercials.
“He was going to deal with immigration, he said, in his first year,” Romney added. “He was going to focus on that. Did he do anything on immigration while he had a Democratic House and Senate?”
“No,” the crowd shouted.
“No,” Romney continued. “This is a president who’s said one thing and done another. And I gotta tell you, we’re going to have a very different course. Because the path he’s taken us on is the path toward Europe.”
In a Fox News interview, Romney dodged the question of whether he would reverse Obama’s deportation policy, just as he did in an interview that aired Sunday on CBS’s “Face the Nation.”
“What I can tell you is that those people who come here by virtue of their parents bringing them here, who came in illegally, that’s something I don’t want to football with as a political matter,” Romney told Fox.
Romney’s remarks at the rally were significant, because he has otherwise focused intensely on the economy on the first four days of a small-town America tour that concludes Tuesday in Michigan.
The timing of Obama’s announcement on Friday -- just as Romney was kicking off his tour in Stratham, N.H. -- forced Romney to address the issue in comments to reporters, shifting the focus of campaign news from the economy to immigration.
But Romney has otherwise avoided raising the topic as he has sought to win local news coverage of his speeches hammering Obama on the economy.
Illegal immigration has posed a tough challenge for Romney. In the Republican primaries, he struck a hard line in order to appeal to conservatives at the risk of turning off Latinos in the general election. Lately, he has moderated his tone as he struggles to narrow Obama’s advantage among Latinos, but risks alienating conservatives if he goes too far.