- The Washington Times - Wednesday, October 26, 2011

It was seen as a big victory for the GOP at the time, but Ohio’s six-month-old law curbing the power of public-sector unions is causing serious political heartburn for two prominent Republicans.

New polls suggest GOPGov. John Kasich is headed for a big defeat Nov. 8 in a vote on whether to repeal the measure, while Republican presidential contender Mitt Romney on Wednesday was taking heat from all sides for what critics say is another flip-flop this week on his position on the measure.

Mr. Romney, on a campaign stop in Northern Virginia on Wednesday, tried to limit the damage from comments he had made a day earlier in Ohio seeming to suggest he would not take a public stand on Senate Bill 5, comments made to a group of GOP activists manning a phone bank outside Cincinnati frantically lobbying against the repeal effort.

“I am not speaking about the particular ballot issues,” Mr. Romney said to reporters Tuesday. “Those are up to the people of Ohio. But I certainly support the efforts of the governor to rein in the scale of government.”

Facing an immediate barrage of criticism from conservatives and rivals such as Texas Gov. Rick Perry, Mr. Romney tried to clarify things a day later, saying he was referring to other questions on the ballot, not SB-5.

“Im sorry if I created any confusion,” he said at a campaign event in Virginia on Wednesday. “I fully support … Gov. Kasichs effort to restrict collective bargaining in Ohio in the ways hes described.”

Mirroring a similar move in Wisconsin, Ohio’s law bans strikes and limits the bargaining power of public-sector unions, sets minimum contributions on health care and pension plans, and ends the mandatory payment of dues for individual workers who decline to join the union.

With labor groups mobilized for repeal, a Quinnipiac poll released on Tuesday showed 57 percent of state voters opposing Issue 2 - which would preserve SB-5 - while just 32 percent support it, a margin that has grown in recent weeks. The same poll also showed Mr. Kasich’s job approval rating at 36 percent, while 52 percent disapprove of his performance.

The outcome of the Nov. 8 vote could have major consequences for the 2012 races. The state continues to struggle economically and will likely be a battleground in the presidential election with its 18 electoral votes up for grab.

“This is a real watershed moment for Ohio,” said Matt Mayer, president of Ohios Buckeye Institute. “I think what you have with that bill is the status quo versus reforming Ohio.”

If it is repealed, he said, “its going to accelerate the fiscal crises in local governments in Ohio,” where a $7.6 billion deficit is predicted by 2015.

“Ohio has been and will continue to be a critical swing state for both parties. While Obama won easily there in 2008, he will struggle next year,” said Jennifer Duffy of the Cook Political Report in Washington.

GOP rivals such as Mr. Perry and Utah Gov. Jon Huntsman Jr. immediately jumped on Mr. Romney over his stand on the Ohio ballot question, while both liberal and conservative critics said the two-day turnaround only spotlighted Mr. Romney’s reputation for policy inconsistencies.

“This is a huge freaking deal,” said Erick Erickson of the influential conservative website Redstate.com “Playing it too safe is finally biting Romney in the rear end.”

Said Ray Sullivan, Mr. Perrys campaign communications director, in a statement, “Mitt Romneys finger-in-the-wind politics continued today when he refused to support right-to-work reforms signed by [Gov. Kasich] - reforms Romney supported in June.”

Ohio Democratic Party Chairman Chris Redfern called Mr. Romney a flip-flop candidate who makes decisions based on headlines and popularity.

“This issue attacking our middle class is a loser. Its isnt just a loser from a policy standpoint, its a loser if you want to run statewide. Hell, its a loser if you want to run as a dogcatcher,” Mr. Redfern said in a conference call with reporters.

Mr. Kasich told the Columbus Dispatch that he had no “backup plan” should the collective-bargaining rights law go down to defeat.

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