WASHINGTON - Mitt Romney will need independent voters in November, but he isn't abandoning his "severely conservative" record.
The likely Republican presidential nominee has embarked on an aggressive campaign against President Obama that straddles two sometimes-conflicting political ideologies.
On some days, the former Massachusetts governor is a social conservative and social moderate, a right-wing conspiracy theorist and promoter of political compromise. It's an evolving balancing act that, so far, is leaning decidedly right.
Romney spoke out Friday against China's "one-child policy" in an apparent nod to social conservatives. But later in the same Fox News interview, he defended his decision to hire an openly gay staffer who recently quit under pressure from social conservatives.
Romney said he hires people "not based upon their ethnicity or their sexual preference or their gender, but upon their capability." He said the ex-aide, Richard Grenell, who was to become foreign policy spokesman, was a "capable individual" and that many senior campaign advisers had urged him not to leave. But Grenell's departure pleased some on the religious right.
The matter offered a look inside a Romney campaign that would like to broaden his appeal to the political center, while harnessing the anti-Obama intensity from his party's right. It's a tricky move, but Romney is trying to prove he won't turn his back on his party's most passionate voters.
He's devoting significant attention to skeptical conservatives who have supported his Republican rivals until recently. Former Pennsylvania Sen. Rick Santorum gave up his bid last month, and former House Speaker Newt Gingrich made his departure official last week.
"We're moving quickly," said Romney senior aide Peter Flaherty, who is leading the campaign's conservative outreach effort. "We are going to work very hard to continue to work with conservatives, to work with the base, to keep them energized."
Romney on Friday met with Santorum, who has indicated he will endorse Romney. Since Santorum quit, Romney's campaign has been recruiting former Santorum staffers and courting his key allies and donors.
Romney has hired Santorum's former campaign manager to broaden coalitions with conservative groups.
At the same time, the Romney campaign is paying lots of attention to the conservative media.
He and his wife met last week with right-leaning bloggers, reporters, and columnists for an off-the-record discussion on Capitol Hill. He has granted interviews recently to conservative publications such as the Weekly Standard, the blog "Hot Air," National Review, and Human Events magazine.
Romney last month told the website Breitbart TV the media were involved in a "vast left-wing conspiracy to work together to put out their message and to attack me."
He will deliver a commencement address this week at Liberty University, the evangelical institution the Rev. Jerry Falwell founded in Lynchburg, Va. He will be the first Mormon to speak at a Liberty graduation.
All that attention could alienate independents and more moderate voters often credited with deciding close elections.