The Washington Times - October 2, 2012, 08:24AM

Virginia Gov. Bob McDonnell on Tuesday downplayed Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney’s recent statement that if elected president, he would not deport illegal immigrants granted special visa status under a program initiated by President Obama and said the election is still likely to hinge on the economy.

Mr. McDonnell, when asked on CNN’s “Starting Point” whether Mr. Romney was “softening” his immigration stance, first pointed out that comprehensive immigration reform is just another example of an issue that Mr. Obama has failed to deliver on.

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Mr. Romney told the Denver Post that the people who have received a special two-year visa under the president’s program should expect that the visa would continue to be valid.

“Before those visas have expired, we will have the full immigration reform plan that I’ve proposed,” Mr. Romney said.

“I think what Mitt Romney’s saying — look, there’s policies already in place that affect a very small number of people,” Mr. McDonnell said. “Those are the cases that tug at your heartstrings, obviously. But what I think the governor’s saying is that unless we get border security and change the enforcement rules internally in the country and then have a plan to deal with the, maybe, the 12 million people that are illegal, we’re not doing justice to the American people. You need to have a comprehensive plan.”

Mr. Romney’s comments are a departure from those he made during the Republican primary season, when he advocated “self-deportation” for illegal immigrants. But even still, polls have shown, and Mr. McDonnell pointed out, that the issue is not at the top of the list for most voters.

“I don’t think this is an issue that’s going to move a lot of voters. It is in certain areas of the country,” Mr. McDonnell said. “I do think it’s one more unmet need that the American people have had for a long time. I think a comprehensive approach … is what we need to do, but ultimately, that’s not what people are going to vote on. They want to get their sons and daughters out of debt, back to work, reduce their gas prices and see a brighter future.”

“I can tell you from listening to people in Virginia, looking at the polls, it’s about jobs, the economy, energy, gas prices and leadership a vision for the future,” he continued. “This is certainly a broken promise of the Obama administration that Governor Romney can fix, and it may move people in a few of the border states and certain areas, but it doesn’t have the intensity that jobs and the economy, gas prices do right now … I think it’s the right message for Governor Romney, and I think this … closes that gap in the swing states and makes it a new ballgame.”