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Romney waffles on Ohio’s anti-union law as polls show its repeal is popular

Republican presidential hopeful Mitt Romney seems dangerously close to waffling on union reform, an issue core to many conservative voters, in Ohio, as he has made different statements on the state’s flashpoint political issue in the last two days.

In June, the former Massachusetts governor took to Facebook and just short of endorsed Senate Bill 5, a law that curbs collective bargaining rights for public employees, the signature work of Ohio Governor John Kasich’s freshman term.

“My friends in Ohio are fighting to defend crucial reforms that the state has put in place to limit the power of union bosses and keep taxes low,” he wrote on June 18. “I stand with John R. Kasich and Ohio’s leaders as they take on this important fight to get control of government spending. Please visit www.BetterOhio.org for more information.”

BetterOhio.org is the campaign website for Building a Better Ohio, the group formed in reaction to public labor unions’ successful effort to place a veto referendum (known as Issue 2) for the controversial law on the November ballot.

Then early this week, Romney seemed far less willing to back the unpopular measure. While visiting a phone bank effort by Republicans working to keep the law, which would require a majority ‘yes’ vote on Issue 2, he told party officials, “I’m not saying anything one way or the other about the two ballot issues. But I am supportive of the Republican Party’s efforts here.”

Conservatives reacted strongly to the presumed GOP frontrunner’s remarks, accusing him of playing both sides on important political issues. A statement from the conservative Club for Growth, accuses Romney of playing a game of brinksmanship: “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 subsidies that are central to Obamacare,” Barney Keller, communications director for the Club for Growth, told Washington Post’s Greg Sargent. “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.”

Romney tried to sidestep the issue, claiming through a spokesperson that such matters should be left up to individual states.

Now this morning, in Virginia, Romney came out in support of the law. “I fully support Gov. Kasich’s Question 2 in Ohio,” Romney said. “I’m sorry if I created any confusion there.”

Wavering support on a critical swing-state’s signature rallying point comes at a time when Issue 2, which appears to be doomed according to recent polling, could cost him the all-important independent vote in an all-important purple state.

Romney may have another motivation to avoid clarity, as well: the other hot-button issue in Ohio is Issue 3, a proposed amendment to the state’s constitution that would prohibit the individual mandate clause of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act. The tea-party-led effort to block “Obamacare” could be a major stumbling block for Romney, who led the effort for a similar health-reform effort in Massachusetts while he was governor there.

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