Romney plays it safe on high-stakes debates

By STEVE PEOPLES | November 19, 2011 | 4:30 PM EST

EXETER, N.H. (AP) — For as long as he's been the Republican front-runner, Mitt Romney has avoided taking firm positions on high-stakes Washington spending debates.

This week's example: Romney's refusal to endorse or oppose a deficit-cutting plan introduced by members of his own party, with a key deadline looming.

The cautiousness builds on the play-it-safe approach Romney has employed on issues ranging from Medicare overhauls to debt-ceiling negotiations, drawing criticism from GOP rivals and raising questions among uncommitted Republicans.

Romney's campaign says the former Massachusetts governor has consistently articulated his economic plans.

But he has shown little willingness to inject himself into congressional debates on an issue he lists among his priorities. Romney's rivals are trying to use his reticence to take a position against him.