Adopting a new tone, Mitt Romney on Sunday said he would retain elements of President Barack Obama's health care overhaul, blamed Republicans as much as Democrats for the "mistake" of agreeing to automatic cuts in military spending, and said Obama's national security strategy had made America in "some ways safer."
The remarks were a marked departure from Romney's frequently harsh and openly partisan critiques of the president on the campaign trail over the last year, and seemed to amount to a different tenor now that he has officially become the Republican presidential nominee: bipartisanship, of sorts.
The remarks came in a rare interview on the NBC News program Meet the Press, and not the friendlier terrain of Fox News, on which Romney prefers to appear.
The approach, however fleeting it may be, appeared to be a direct and deliberate appeal to middle-of-the-road voters who have not made up their minds yet and who are likely to decide the race. At one point, Romney said the speech last week by the country's previous Democratic president, Bill Clinton, had "elevated" the party's convention in Charlotte, N.C.
Asked by the show's host, David Gregory, what elements of the health care program he would maintain, Romney said he would ensure that those with pre-existing conditions can obtain coverage, just as the president's plan does.
"I'm not getting rid of all of health care reform," Romney said, while emphasizing that he planned to replace the president's plan with his own. "There are a number of things that I like in health care reform that I'm going to put in place. One is to make sure that those with pre-existing conditions can get coverage."
He also said his health-care plan would allow families to cover adult children with their policies through age 26 and include access to coverage for unemployed people seeking insurance. Both are part of the Affordable Care Act, signed into law by Obama in 2010.
Romney did not entirely refrain from jabbing at the president. He criticized Obama's handling of the crisis over Iran's nuclear program and insisted that should the president be re-elected, Americans would "see chronic high unemployment continue for another four years or longer."
But he was also generous in his praise, commending the president twice for giving the order to kill Osama bin Laden, which as recently as April Romney had said "even Jimmy Carter" would have done.
"That was a great accomplishment," Romney said on Sunday. "Using the drones to strike at al-Qaida targets. I think those are positive developments."
Romney, whose standing in several national polls improved slightly after the Republican convention in Tampa, said, "I'm in a better spot than I was before the convention."
"People got to see Ann and hear our story," he said, referring to this wife. "And the result of that is I'm better known, for better or for worse."
Romney, who has repeatedly blamed the president for failing to curb the federal debt, said he would seek to balance the federal budget in eight to 10 years, perhaps after his own potential presidency would end. Any attempt to do so in a first term, he said, would have "a dramatic impact on the economy — too dramatic."
Yet neither Romney nor his running mate, Rep. Paul Ryan of Wisconsin, who appeared on This Week on ABC, offered details about how they planned to balance the budget. Asked separately what loopholes they would close to pay for their proposed tax cuts, neither of the men answered.
Obama pounced on that omission in an appearance in Melbourne on Sunday. "When my opponents were asked about it today, it was like two plus one equals five," the president said, mocking the math underlying the Republican economic plan.
On Meet the Press, Romney made it clear what kind of budget cuts would be off limits under his presidency. He said he strongly disagreed with a compromise made last year by the White House and congressional Republicans, including Ryan, that called for automatic cuts to military spending as a way to force a deal on deficit reduction.
"I thought it was a mistake on the part of the White House to propose it. I think it was a mistake for Republicans to go along with it," he said.
Ryan, on This Week, stood by that agreement despite his new boss' criticism, saying that he had been trying to find common ground with Obama. He called it a "step in the right direction."
Romney seemed defensive when Gregory asked about criticism from the conservative magazine the Weekly Standard — and from others on both sides of the ideological divide — that he did not speak about the conflict in Afghanistan when he accepted his party's nomination in Tampa.
"Was that a mistake, with so much sacrifice in two wars over the period of this last decade?" Gregory asked.
Romney answered, "You know, I find it interesting that people are curious about mentioning words in a speech as opposed to policy," noting that he had discussed the war in Afghanistan just before the convention, in a speech to the American Legion. "I went to the American Legion," he said, "and spoke with our veterans there and described my policy as it relates to Afghanistan and other foreign policy and our military."