Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney on Monday embraced a student loan proposal that President Obama is selling on the campaign trail and refused to endorse Sen. Marco Rubio's conservative immigration plan aimed at helping young illegal immigrants.
The two policy positions signaled an effort by Romney to move to the political center as he works to court critical general election swing voters -- including young voters and Hispanic voters -- after a brutal primary fight.
"I think young voters in this country have to vote for me if they're really thinking of what's in the best interest of the country and what's in their personal best interest," Romney said as he stood next to Rubio, R-Fla.
Romney was campaigning in Pennsylvania a day before the state's primary -- he doesn't have serious opposition now that Sen. Rick Santorum has dropped out of the race -- and answered reporters' questions for the first time since effectively securing the GOP presidential nomination.
House Republicans oppose legislation to extend temporarily low interest rates for student loans. Obama has been pushing Congress for the extension and planned a three-state tour this week to warn students of the potential financial catastrophe they will face if Congress fails to act.
Interest rates are set to double on July 1, from 3.4 percent to 6.8 percent, on a popular federal loan for low- and middle-income undergraduates.
"I support extending the temporary relief on interest rates for students," Romney said Monday, a day before five states hold primaries, though he did not offer specifics on how the extension should be paid for or how long it should last. He said he supports the extension because of "extraordinarily poor conditions in the job market."
Romney refused to embrace a Rubio proposal that would allow young illegal immigrants to remain in the United States to work or study. He did say there were provisions to "commend" it and that his campaign would "study the issue."
Romney said during the South Carolina primary that all illegal immigrants should return to their home country and get in line to be eligible for U.S. citizenship. Rubio's still-evolving bill would allow young illegal immigrants who graduated from high school and have no criminal record to obtain a nonimmigrant visa. They could stay in the United States, obtain a driver's license and work or continue their studies but would have no special path to citizenship.
Romney's answers illustrate the careful line he has to walk as he transitions from the primary to the general election, where he'll have to tussle with Obama for support from the Hispanic, female and young voters who propelled Obama to victory in 2008.
Rubio, a Cuban-American, is considered a top potential pick for vice president. He's the latest in a string of possible running mates to campaign with Romney and is the first to get an audition since Santorum left the race and Romney staffers formally began organizing the process of searching for a No. 2.