Today, Mitt Romney refused to take a position on the big battle in Ohio over the ballot initiative to repeal Governor John Kasich’s law rolling back the collective bargaining rights of public employees. The fight is a hugely important one to conservatives, with right wing money flowing into the state, and conservative bloggers erupted in fury at Romney, asking how it is that he can be running for president when he isn’t willing to take a firm stand against the scourge of public employees.

In response to the outcry, Romney’s campaign rolled out a creative argument: His reluctance is about preserving states rights. “Gov. Romney believes that the citizens of states should be able to make decisions about important matters of policy that affect their states on their own,” Romney spokesperson Andrea Saul explained.

Now Romney’s reluctance on the issue has drawn a harsh response from a powerful conservative player: The Club for Growth. A spokesman for the group, Barney Keller, pointed out that Romney did in fact support right to work legislation in New Hampshire last year, despite his current stance on Ohio, and offered this scathing response:

“The big problem many conservatives have with Mitt Romney is that he’s taken both sides of nearly every issue important to us. He’s against a flat tax, now he’s for it. He says he’s against ObamaCare, but was for the individual mandate and susbidies that are central to ObamaCare. He thinks that collective bargaining issues should be left for states to decide if he’s Ohio, but he took the opposite position when he was in New Hampshire. This is just another statement in a long line of statements that will raise more doubts about what kind of President Mitt Romney would be in the minds of many Republican primary voters.”

Brutal. You can’t overstate how important this Ohio battle is to the national right — they see it as a key front in their ongoing effort to break the backs of unions in the middle of the industrial heartland. While one of the outstanding questions about Romney is whether social conservatives will be able to bring themselves to support him, given his previous apostasy on their issues, here’s an example of Romney’s economic conservatism being called into question.

Governors who are willing to risk serious unpopularity in order to roll back the bargaining rights of public employees — like John Kasich and Scott Walker — have become full fledged national conservative heroes. The sense that Romney is unwilling to fully embrace this crusade in a crucial swing state — on the same day that polling shows that labor may defeat conservatives on this one — will seriously deepen already serious doubts on the right about Romney’s conservative mettle.


UPDATE: It’s worth adding that today’s Quinnipiac poll found that a majority of independents supports rolling back the Ohio collective bargaining law. So conservatives could reasonably wonder if Romney is unwilling to fully embrace this crusade — one that’s extremely important to them in ideological terms — in order to give him a better shot at winning the state as a general election candidate.