State issues can be tricky for presidential field
CINCINNATI (AP) - Mitt Romney gingerly distanced himself from a labor issue on the Ohio ballot one day. The next, he embraced the initiative "110 percent."
The reversal not only highlights his record of equivocations but also underscores the local political minefields national candidates often confront in their state-by-state path to the presidency.
Candidates visiting Nevada often wade into the debate about where nuclear waste should go. They're pressed in South Carolina to take a stand on an aircraft maker's labor dispute. In New Hampshire, they face questions about right-to-work issues. And then there are the perennials, such as ethanol subsidies in Iowa and the Confederate battle flag in South Carolina.
Such local issues aren't of concern to most voters across the nation, but these topics can matter greatly to voters wanting to hear the thoughts of candidates soliciting support ahead of presidential primaries. Candidates often work to strike a balance between addressing issues local voters care about without staking out hardline positions that could hurt them elsewhere.
"They've got to be careful about not weighing in on issues that are exclusively local. That could backfire," said Kevin Smith, a conservative activist and likely Republican gubernatorial candidate in New Hampshire.
"It's something that could easily be blown up into something bigger than it ought to be."
As Romney proved this week, such local issues can trip up even the most cautious candidate, causing headaches for their national campaigns while hurting their standings in important states for both the primary and general elections.
"Fully support that," Romney said about the Ohio ballot initiative while visiting a local Republican Party office Wednesday in Fairfax, Va.
The former Massachusetts governor was trying to fix a problem he created a day earlier during a trip to Terrace Park near Cincinnati.
Romney visited a site where volunteers were making hundreds of phone calls to help Republicans defeat the Issue Two ballot effort to repeal Ohio Gov. John Kasich's restrictions on public sector employee bargaining.
Romney took a pass on supporting the measure just as a newly released Quinnipiac University poll indicated Ohio voters opposed the GOP-backed restrictions 57 percent to 32 percent.
But Romney already had weighed in, supporting Kasich's efforts in a June Facebook post.
Republican and Democratic critics alike were quick to point out Romney's waffling. His campaign rivals Rick Perry and Jon Huntsman fired off statements supporting the union restrictions, and Obama's Ohio state campaign director, Greg Schultz, sent out emails Tuesday night to supporters noting Romney's "sidestep."
Roughly 24 hours later, Romney clarified his support for Kasich.
Even so, Huntsman, the former Utah governor languishing in polls, sought to gain ground by arguing that the episode demonstrated Romney's failure to show leadership.
"This is a time when if you are going to be president of the United States, you show a little presidential leadership," he told ABC News. "That's by taking a position and leading out - sometimes there is a risk associated with taking a position, but that's all part of leadership."
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