Romney, under fire, rushes to back Ohio union-bargaining legislation

Mitt Romney backed away Wednesday from an apparent misstep on a controversial labor union issue in Ohio, rushing to emphasize he supports Gov. John Kasich (R) “110 percent” in limiting collective bargaining power.

At a campaign stop in Virginia, after both conservatives and Ohio Democrats pounded him on the issue, Romney clarified his support for Kasich.

"I fully support Gov. Kasich's [Issue 2] in Ohio," Romney said. "I’m sorry if I created any confusion in that regard. … What I was referring to was I know that there are other ballot questions there in Ohio and I wasn’t taking a position on those. One of them, for instance, relates to healthcare and mandates — I’ve said that should be up to individual states. I, of course, took my state in one direction. They might want to go in a different direction.”

During a campaign stop thanking Ohio GOP volunteers Tuesday, the former governor of Massachusetts sidestepped a chance to take a position on two upcoming issues on the Ohio ballot.

“I am not terribly familiar with the two ballot initiatives. But I am certainly supportive of the Republican Party's efforts here,” Romney said. “Those [ballot issues] are up to the people of Ohio. But I certainly support the efforts of the governor to rein in the scale of government.”

The specific ballot questions Romney was addressing included Ohio Issue 2, which overturns Kasich-backed legislation to limit collective bargaining rights for government union workers, and Issue 3, which forbids the individual health insurance mandate. Romney later said he did not even know the question raised by ballot Issue 1.

Kasich’s bill and other controversial labor issues in states such as Wisconsin and South Carolina have been a hot topic in the campaign cycle so far. Romney laid out his labor policy in a speech last month, emphasizing that as president, he would support a secret ballot for voluntary union membership.

And he rushed to reaffirm his labor positions on Wednesday after an onslaught of criticism from both sides regarding his apparent unwillingness to take a stance on the union issue.

The Ohio Democratic Party, influential Tea Party-affiliated group Freedom Works and rival Rick Perry’s campaign all blasted Romney for appearing to back away from Kasich on the issue. They also accused him of shifting positions based on political expediency and the unpopularity of the legislation according to the polls.

“Americans are tired of politicians who change their beliefs to match public opinion polls,” Perry’s communications director, Ray Sullivan, said in a statement, slamming Romney for his “finger-in-the-wind politics.”

The Democratic National Committee (DNC) slammed Romney on Wednesday after his clarification.

“Mitt Romney thinks it’s OK to weigh in on the state issue of collective bargaining, but then immediately says it’s inappropriate to weigh in on the state issue of healthcare and the individual mandate — this man can perform a flip-flop on not just issues — but on the very rationale for how he approaches issues. It’s little wonder he can’t crack 25 percent in GOP primary polls,” said DNC spokesman Michael Czin.

Romney addressed the Ohio issue after thanking volunteers at the Fairfax County Republican Committee Headquarters in Northern Virginia on Wednesday. Virginia's Gov. Bob McDonnell and Lt. Gov. Bill Bolling accompanied Romney, speaking ahead of the former Massachusetts governor following the grassroots event.

Volunteers at the GOP center are making calls in support of Republicans running in Virginia's legislative elections this November.

McDonnell, a popular Republican governor who also has close ties to Perry, said last week he won't consider endorsing a presidential candidate until sometime after the Virginia elections take place. But he complimented Romney on his business experience and for laying out a "specific plan" to create jobs.

"There are no endorsements today, although those are always welcome," Romney said, adding that he’s “asked every governor for their endorsement,” including McDonnell.

McDonnell's name also regularly comes up as a possible vice presidential candidate. However, Romney sidestepped questions on his possible VP pick, saying it would be "presumptuous" of him to make that choice ahead of the nomination.

Bolling endorsed Romney in August, and serves as chairman of Romney's campaign in Virginia.

Romney emphasized that he made the visit to Fairfax to support the Republican Party’s efforts to “take back the state Senate” and “send a message” to President Obama that he won’t carry Virginia in 2012. Obama won the state by six points in 2008, making it a swing state in 2012.

Romney also held two fundraising events in Northern Virginia, one Tuesday night at the McLean home of technology executive Bobbie Kilberg that McDonnell and Bolling attended, and another with members of Congress on Wednesday afternoon at the American Trucking Association near Capitol Hill.

Obama’s reelection campaign kept the bull’s-eye on Romney during his visit, saying the GOP presidential candidate would “rubber-stamp” current House Republican legislation, including ending Medicare, cutting Social Security and letting “Wall Street write its own rules again,” said Ben LaBolt, press secretary for the Obama campaign, in a statement.

Romney brushed off his apparent status as the primary target of Obama’s campaign, as well as his GOP competition for the presidential nomination.

“I think the biggest threat to my success is President Obama, and I plan on beating him soon,” he said.

Attendees at the afternoon fundraiser included a number of Romney’s congressional endorsers, including House Oversight and Government Reform Chairman Darrell Issa (Calif.), Armed Services Committee Chairman Buck McKeon (Calif.) and Sens. Roy BluntRoy Dean BluntMcCaskill outpaces GOP opponent by more than million GOP senators raise concerns about babies on Senate floor Some doubt McCarthy or Scalise will ever lead House GOP MORE (Mo.) and Orrin HatchOrrin Grant HatchSenate Finance leaders call on Commerce to improve the tariff-exclusion process GOP senators raise concerns about babies on Senate floor House passes series of bills to improve IRS MORE (Utah).