If Mitt Romney's hope was that skirting the contentious Ohio referendum over public employee unions would leave him clearer sailing for competing in that swing state next year, he miscalculated badly. There are are new signs coming out of Ohio of just what a mess has been left in the state's Republican circles by his refusal to speak out for Gov. John Kasich's sweeping anti-union law even as he showed up at a phone bank making calls on behalf of upholding the law. Business Insider is reporting on a swirl of anonymous recriminations among Ohio Republicans -- some are alleging that state GOP Chairman Kevin DeWine, who escorted Romney to the phone bank, deliberately left Romney uninformed about the ballot issues at stake in Ohio because DeWine is on rocky terms with Kasich, who has staked a great deal on Senate Bill 2, the public employee union measure, which DeWine has far less invested in. From the report:
"Every call, every text, every conversation from people associated with the Romney campaign yesterday was 'What the hell happened yesterday?'... And those headlines where it says, 'Romney distances himself from Kasich, those headlines aren't good for John Kasich," said one source in an interview with Business Insider. The source went on to say that "Governor Romney was not served well here."
Two sources with ties to Governor Kasich suggested that the Romney appearance was designed to humiliate Ohio's governor. Specifically, they suggested, Romney was advised not to take a side on this unpopular issue.
"I can tell you that those [DeWine's] sentiments [about Issue 2] have been made clear to governor Romney. The opinion of those close to the [Ohio] chairman is that Romney should stay as far away from this thing as possible. That it is unpopular," said the experienced operative.
"They are covering their ass," says the operative with ties to Kasich, "The politicos in Ohio are pissed about what happened. It's not a good showing for him... Romney lost a lot of support in Ohio. Donors too, we have donors that wrote $1 million checks to this campaign [on Issue 2] and are Romney supporters. I don't think they are happy how this went down."
While it's clear that Romney's visit has seriously bruised feelings in Ohio, count me as skeptical of the particulars of this account -- it seems hard to believe that someone as well informed as Romney would not be up to speed on the months-long fight over Kasich's union law. I am likewise dubious of Romney's own new explanation, that he skirted commenting on the union referendum, Issue 2, because he was not prepared to take a stance on the other ballot issue being pushed by the call center, Issue 3, which would allow Ohioans to opt out of the individual insurance mandate in the new health care law. Why wouldn't Romney be all the more willing to speak up for this measure, given his much-touted new opposition to making Americans outside of Massachusetts endure such a mandate? (And if he truly was unsure about whether to support Issue 3, then conservatives ought to be making an even bigger fuss about that.) No, this seems like a case where the simplest interpretation is also the most plausible: Romney knows the union law is likely to be repealed and is nervous about being on the wrong side of a losing issue in Ohio in the general election. As the Boston Globe puts it in a comprehensive new wrap-up of Romney's latest equivocations: "In recent weeks, Mitt Romney has given fresh life to the longtime political complaint that he lacks a core."