Romney, under fire, endorses Ohio union law

at 11:50 AM ET, 10/26/2011

Former Massachusetts governor Mitt Romney today declared that he was “110 percent” behind a law in Ohio that limits collective bargaining rights, after refusing to comment on the matter Tuesday.

Romney was roundly hammered by conservatives for refusing, on a visit to Ohio, to endorse a ballot measure there that curtails collective bargaining for public employees. The Club for Growth, FreedomWorks, and prominent pundits all attacked the presidential candidate. Rival Texas Gov. Rick Perry quickly joined them.
Romney is trying to balance his primary strategy and his general election strategy. (Darren McCollester - GETTY IMAGES)

“I fully support Gov. Kasich's Question 2 in Ohio," Romney said at a campaign stop in Virginia, referring to the Issue 2 referendum that would maintain the law. “I'm sorry if I created any confusion there.”

The episode was especially odd because Romney — as he pointed out in Virginia — endorsed Issue 2 way back in June, on his Facebook page. He was also at a call center for volunteers rallying support for the law when he declined to comment.

“I was surprised to see the initial exchange, but it looks like they reviewed the record and got their message back on track,” said Ohio Republican strategist Doug Preisse. “I do not think it was a reflection of Gov. Romney’s personal convictions and positions.”

The law, which Gov. John Kasich (R) signed in April, faces a referendum on Nov. 8. Polling out today showed respondents favoring repeal by 57 percent to 32 percent. Independents favored repeal 56 percent to 32 percent. Opposition to the law spanned income, racial, gender and educational lines.

Romney appeared not to have been prepared for questions, and may have thought at the time that the wise thing to do was keep quiet.

Some unnamed Ohio operatives have alleged that members of the state party purposefully left Romney in the dark in order to embarass the governor, with whom they are feuding.

”Unless you hook people up to lie detectors, you don’t know whether it was just a staff error in not briefing him or something more Machiavellian,” said longtime Ohio Republican consultant Terry Casey.

The candidate himself said today he did not speak out on the issue earlier because he did not want to weigh in on another referendum on the ballot, Issue 3, which would ban all health-care mandates (state, federal, and private.) As governor of Massachusetts, he instituted a statewide health-care mandate.

“I don’t want to tell them what I think they ought to do in that regard.” he said.

It’s not the first time Romney has caught himself in such a bind, and it plays into the ongoing narrative that the candidate is a flip-flopper who will say whatever is convenient at the moment. Perry, in a statement on the issue before Romney’s reversal, called his rival a “finger-in-the-wind” politician.

Romney’s explanation also draws more unwanted attention to the health-care law he signed in Massachusetts, which is now directly at odds with the Ohio Republican Party’s agenda.

Locally, it might not matter much. Ohio’s primary just moved from March to June, so the state won’t play a significant role in the process. In the general election, the same Quinnipiac poll that showed Kasich’s collective bargaining law going down showed Romney as the only candidate in striking distance of Obama in the state.

But nationally, this unforced error does not do the candidate any favors.

"To say that Mitt Romney flips around on his positions more than a weathervane would be charitable," said Democratic National Committee spokesman Brad Woodhouse in a statement. 

 
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