UPDATE 1-Romney softens immigration stance, seizes upon Biden comment

Sam Youngman

* Romney will not overturn Obama immigration order

* First presidential debate on Wednesday

DENVER, Oct 2 (Reuters) - U.S. Republican Mitt Romney

positioned himself on Tuesday for a high-stakes presidential

debate, softening his stance on immigration while his campaign

accused the White House of a "stunning admission" that it had

failed on the economy.

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 square off over domestic issues like the

economy, immigration and healthcare.

Romney's campaign jumped on Vice President Joe Biden for

comments the Republicans said were an acknowledgment that

Obama's policies have been bad for the economy.

Accusing Romney of planning to raise taxes, Biden told a

crowd in Charlotte, North Carolina:

"This is deadly earnest. How they can justify ... raising

taxes on the middle class that has been buried the last four

years?"

Obama's camp said Biden, known for making gaffes and

speaking out of turn, was referring to the economic plight

caused by former President George W. Bush's policies. But the

Romney campaign made the most of the remark.

"Vice President Biden, just today, said that the middle

class, over the last four years, has been 'buried.' We agree,"

Romney's running mate, Paul Ryan, told supporters at a campaign

event in Iowa.

The Biden comment gave Republicans hope ahead of Wednesday's

showdown in Denver, the first of three presidential debates that

might define the Nov. 6 election.

In the latest effort to show a gentler side after a damaging

video appeared last month, Romney tweaked his immigration

policy.

He told The Denver Post 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 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" from the United States.

"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.

Previously, Romney had 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 appeared aimed at courting

the Hispanic vote, which will likely be key in the swing state

of Colorado. 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 47 percent of the

electorate as dependent on federal aid.

A Reuters/Ipsos poll on Tuesday showed Obama's lead over the

Republican narrowing to five points, at 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.

Often accused of being out of touch with voters, Romney took

a break from preparation for Wednesday's debate with Obama by

visiting Mexican fast food chain Chipotle in Denver, where he

ordered a "burrito bowl" of pork, rice, black beans, guacamole

and a spicy sauce.

OBAMA MOMENTUM

Obama goes into the debate s 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

in T he Denver Post interview a bout 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, 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."

Speaking in Iowa on Tuesday, Ryan was quizzed by a voter

about a Fox News interview last weekend in which 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. ... 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."