Tuesday, his rhetoric was softer.
“The kids of those that came here illegally, those kids, I think, should have a pathway to become a permanent resident of the United States and military service, for instance, is one way they would have that kind of pathway to become a permanent resident,” he said.
Romney criticized Obama for doing little to push comprehensive immigration legislation. “Now when the president ran for office, he said that he’d put in place, in his first year, a piece of legislation – he’d file a bill in his first year that would reform our – our immigration system, protect legal immigration, stop illegal immigration. He didn’t do it,” Romney said.
Obama countered by recalling Romney’s harder line. “His main strategy during the Republican primary was to say, ‘We’re going to encourage self-deportation,’” the president said.
Another questioner asked Romney how he differed from former President George W. Bush. Both are Republicans, and Bush left office in 2009 with a dismal approval rating in the midst of a deep recession.
"President Bush and I are different people and these are different times,” he said.
Romney listed several the ways the two differ – most importantly, his policies on the economy, his encouragement of small businesses, his plan to increase trade and balance the budget.
Obama disputed Romney, saying Romney and Bush are similar on the economy, but that Romney has gone to a more "extreme place" on non-financial issues, including immigration and Planned Parenthood funding.
The talk quickly turned back to domestic issues, as the candidates were asked about gun control. Hofstra is on New York’s Long Island, where 19 years ago Rep. Carolyn McCarthy’s husband was killed by a gunman on the Long Island Railroad and her son was seriously wounded.
Obama has not spoken about guns much as president. He told voters in 2008, “I’m not going to take away your guns.” The website for his 2008 campaign said he supports “making guns in this country childproof” and making the assault-weapons ban permanent. The National Rifle Association has charged Obama with being anti-gun, and earlier this month it endorsed Romney.
After the deadly July movie-theater shooting in Aurora, Colo., Obama promised to lead a national debate about gun control, saying he thinks many gun owners would agree that “AK-47s belong in the hands of soldiers,” not civilians.
Romney supported policies during his run for Senate in 1994 that he said weren’t “going to make me the hero of the NRA.” Romney joined the group in 2006. In 2007, he said that as president, he would have signed an assault-weapons ban if the bill came to his desk. A few months later, he said he didn’t “support any gun control legislation,” and reiterated that point Tuesday.