Candidate Mitt Romney arrives at his campaign offices in Boston Sunday to prepare for a debate.
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BOSTON -- With swing voters in his sights, Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney is tacking toward the center on health care and defense spending now that he's put his final partisan hurdle behind him and the sprint to Nov. 6 is under way.
Mr. Romney said in an interview that aired Sunday that he would retain some popular parts of the 2010 health-care law he has pledged to repeal, saying the features he would keep are common-sense measures in what he calls an otherwise costly, inefficient plan.
The former Massachusetts governor also faulted congressional Republicans for going along with the White House on a budget deal that has set up automatic spending cuts that include huge reductions in defense spending -- a deal his running mate, Rep. Paul Ryan, helped steer.
Mr. Romney's campaign dismissed the idea that the comments were a lurch toward the middle now that the Republican convention, the last partisan event of the campaign, has passed, even as Mr. Romney was visiting the most competitive states on the election map.
President Obama gets a bear hug from restaurant owner Scott Van Duzer, during a stop in Ft. Pierce, Fla., Sunday.
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"I'm not getting rid of all of health-care reform. Of course, there are a number of things that I like in health-care reform that I'm going to put in place," Mr. Romney told NBC's Meet the Press in an interview taped Friday and Saturday. He cited coverage for people with medical conditions and new insurance marketplaces.
The comments brought renewed attention to the similarities between Mr. Obama's plan and the one Mr. Romney championed when he was Massachusetts governor, which included protections for health conditions and an individual mandate that the Republican has since railed against.
The GOP nominee, who attended church in Boston Sunday, didn't offer specifics for how he'd deal with the affordability of insurance, but suggested competition would help bring down costs. For seniors, Mr. Romney has called for restructuring Medicare by giving retirees a government payment that they would use to choose between Medicare and private insurance.
Romney aides dismissed the idea that the candidate's comments about the defense cuts or health care were an effort to appear less partisan with the race for undecided voters now under way.
Mr. Obama, campaigning for a second day in Florida, tried to move past a weak jobs report Friday and highlight the impact of Mr. Romney's proposals on older workers and those nearing retirement.
The President promoted a study showing that future retirees under Mr. Romney's plan would pay tens of thousands of dollars more for health care over their retirement period. The report was rejected quickly by Mr. Romney's campaign, which faulted Mr. Obama for relying on "discredited attacks" and noted the study was conducted by Mr. Obama's former adviser.
Mr. Obama told about 3,000 supporters in Melbourne, Fla., that if Mr. Romney had his way, Americans will pay more so insurers could make more. "No American should have to spend their golden years at the mercy of insurance companies," he said.
Hoping to put a human face on the issue, Mr. Obama ate breakfast at a Florida cafe with two older couples concerned about Medicare costs. But a brief interaction with another patron and Romney supporter underscored what polls show is a persistent problem for Mr. Obama with voters who like him personally but question his economic competence.
"I always thought he was a very personable person, nice person," said 73-year-old Bill Terrell of Cocoa, Fla. "I just don't think he's doing a good job on the economy."
Later in the day, however, the President received an unexpected lift when stopping at Big Apple Pizza and Pasta Restaurant in Fort Pierce.
Scott Van Duzer, the 46-year-old, six-foot-three restaurant owner, gave the President a bear hug, lifting him a couple feet off the ground as Mr. Obama marveled at the man's strength -- and enthusiasm.
"Look at that!" the 6-foot-1, 176-pound Mr. Obama exclaimed. "Man, are you a power lifter or what?"
Mr. Van Duzer, a Republican said he voted for Mr. Obama in 2008 despite his party affiliation and planned to do so again, was on a driving range when he got word that the President was heading to his restaurant. He hustled over lickety split.
"One of the reasons that we wanted to stop by," Mr. Obama said, "is that Scott has been doing unbelievable work out of this pizza shop in promoting the importance of donating blood."
Mr. Van Duzer runs a foundation that helps collect blood for the ill; he has received White House commendations for his work.
"Here's an example of somebody who is doing well, but he's also giving back. So we just want to say how proud we are of him," Mr. Obama said.
The President's Secret Service agents looked a bit perturbed over the hug, but Mr. Van Duzer said he had gotten permission. Speaking to reporters, he said an agent had told him that "I was all right as long as I didn't take him away."