The most contentious issue in the fundamental swing state of Ohio, and Mitt Romney. What could possibly go wrong?
The former Mass. Gov.’s rapid turnabout on SB 5, the anti-union legislation currently facing a repeal referendum in Ohio, is not notable in a vaccum. Romney has faced the flip-flop charge during his whole national political career. But on Tuesday morning when he stepped into a call center full of conservative volunteers pushing back against the unpopular bill’s downfall, he was expected to say one thing: “I support SB 5.” It wasn’t until the following morning before he uttered those words.
Romney’s SB 5 flip-flop could come back to hurt him. Here’s why:
This is Ohio, for Pete’s sake
Hard to think of a state where it would be more disadvantageous to simultaneously enrage one’s base and then very publicly tie one’s self to an issue independent voters are against (and polls have showed indies breaking away from SB 5, hard).
Romney is in a very, very good position in the state were he to be the GOP’s nominee. Citing their fresh data from mid-October, Democratic polling firm Public Policy Polling even went as far to say that if the general election were tomorrow, Romney would take the state. Quinnipiac released a poll Wednesday before Romney walked back his non-position on SB 5 that showed him within striking distance in Ohio. But now, what will the next round of polling say?
SB 5 is the only ballgame in Ohio right now
In an interview with TPM, Ohio Democratic Party Communications Director Seth Bringman pointed to the fact that SB 5 has become a flashpoint in the state’s politics. Repeatedly calling it the “quintessential” issue in the state, he maintained that what pols do now is going to deeply effect what happens in the state in the general election. “I think he’s [Romney] missing the point on how much this is going to matter in 2012,” Bringman said. “For someone who wants to win the state a year for now, to show such disregard for the most important issue facing Ohio right now is insulting.”
Conservatives in the state are working against it, in an off year
Of course that sentiment is not just relegated to the party whose job it is to beat Romney should he be the GOP nominee. In an interview directly after Romney waffled on SB 5, Brendan Steinhauser, the Federal and State Campaigns Director at FreedomWorks who is running an anti-repeal effort in Ohio, told TPM that conservative activists in the state would not forget Romney’s non-support. While Romney later changed course, the whole affair seems only to confirm the deepest concern that Republican faithful have about him — that he’ll change his positions to fit the politics of a given situation.
SB 5 is probably going down
Despite efforts by conservatives to keep the law from being scuttled, all public polling on the issue shows it being repealed by a huge margin. The morning Romney showed up at the call center, Quinnpiac released numbers showing repeal forces up by 25 points, and a week before PPP had shown a twenty point lead. If it is the issue that drives Ohio politics in 2012 as the Democrats argue, then November 8th’s referedum vote isn’t going to be pretty for supporters of SB 5.
Now Gov. Romney is one of them, and there’s video.
Stumbling on SB 5 not only gave Perry an opening, it took out a window
Romney had finally fought off what was considered to be his best competition for the GOP nod in Texas Gov. Rick Perry, expelling him though a series of excellent debate performances and jamming him on Social Security. The former Bay state Gov. seemed prepared to set his sites on the current GOP flavor of the month, businessman Herman Cain, another step in the process of realizing his inevitable status as the GOP candidate.
So what does Romney do? He gives Perry, who is polling all the way down in the mid single digits (read: has nothing to lose right now) still has 17 million in the bank (read: can easily make this a fight again) a chance to hit his softest target — flip flopping. Predictably, Perry didn’t miss. “Mitt Romney may have set a new record in the amount of time it has taken him to flip-flop on an issue,” wrote Perry camp spokesman Mark Miner in an email to TPM. “And it’s still early in the day.”
There are of course bad days on the campaign trail. But for the campaign with a rep for being the most proficient in the Republican primary, it was a remarkably undisciplined 24 hours.
Kyle is the Editor of TPM Media’s PollTracker. He graduated from Beloit College (WI) and began working in politics before getting an M.A. in magazine journalism from New York University, where he interned at TPM and the website of The New Yorker.