Republican presidential candidate, former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney, and his wife Ann, serve ice cream to supporters during a campaign stop in Milford, N.H., Friday, June 15, 2012. (AP Photo/Evan Vucci)
HAZELTON, Pa. (AP) — Mitt Romney is trying to steer his bus tour back to middle-class economic issues as he visits three communities in Pennsylvania following a detour caused by President Barack Obama's new policy on the deportation of young illegal immigrants.
The presumptive Republican presidential nominee plans to keep up his focus on jobs and the economy, arguing that he's the candidate who will give average Americans a "fair shot" at prosperity.
Romney is targeting smaller cities and towns through the state's conservative midsection. He planned stops Saturday at a casting and machine company in Weatherly, a convenience store in Quakertown and an old iron furnace in Cornwall that's now a national historic landmark.
The tour is intended to challenge Obama in states where he's strong — the president won Pennsylvania in 2008, and no Republican has won the state since 1988. In 2008, Republican nominee John McCain won two of the counties Romney plans to visit.
The last time Romney was in the Keystone State, he was campaigning with Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla., and saying he was "studying" the Cuban-American's ideas for legislation that would allow some illegal immigrants to stay in the country to work.
The opening of Romney's six-state, five-day tour was overshadowed by Obama's announcement Friday that the U.S. would no longer deport some young illegal immigrants who came to the U.S. as children. In response, Romney softened the harsh rhetoric he used in addressing illegal immigration during the contentious GOP primary campaign.
"It's an important matter to be considered and should be solved on a long-term basis so they know what their future would be in this country," Romney told reporters after stepping off his bus in New Hampshire. Obama's executive order was problematic, he said, because "an executive order, of course, is a short-term matter. It can be reversed by subsequent presidents."
That measured response echoed Rubio's own reaction to Obama's announcement. Although pressed by reporters, Romney refused to take a firm position or say whether he would, if elected president, reverse the executive order.
The focus on immigration also threatened to raise questions about whether Romney would shift his positions based on changing political circumstances.
Romney, a former Massachusetts governor, adopted a tough line on immigration during the primary, calling the so-called DREAM Act a "handout" and saying he would veto it as president. The legislation would provide a pathway to citizenship for young illegal immigrants who attended college or served in the military.
Romney faces pressure to appeal to the Hispanic voters who will be critical in battleground states like Nevada and Colorado, but he also risks alienating his conservative base if he abandons his previously tough stances.
The bus tour — Romney plans to fly each night to the next state and ride from town to town during the day — is his first traditional campaign swing and is aimed at undecided voters in six battleground states: New Hampshire, Pennsylvania, Ohio, Wisconsin, Michigan and Iowa. Obama won them all in 2008.
"If there's ever been a president who has not given a fair shot to the middle-income Americans of this great nation, it is Barack Obama," Romney declared from a makeshift podium during an "ice cream social" in a New Hampshire town square on Friday. "I understand what it takes to get people to work again. I will do that to help the American people from the richest to the poorest and everybody in between."
The tour represents a new mode for Romney in the general election. During the primary, Romney sometimes ran into trouble in less-scripted environments and the bus tour is likely to test him again. He also has long faced questions about his ability to connect with average Americans.