Perhaps it all comes down to the definition of “endorse.” Mitt Romney traveled to Ohio today, where Republicans are hoping to hold off a referendum that would overturn Governor John Kasich’s reform of public-employee union bargaining, one that went farther than a similar effort in Wisconsin earlier this year. The trip included a stop and an appearance at the center where organizing to defend the PEU reforms is taking place. Romney then told the crowd and the press that he wasn’t there to take a position on any ballot measure, leaving many to assume that he wouldn’t defend Kasich. State GOP chair Kevin DeWine defended Romney by saying he didn’t invite Romney to Ohio to endorse the measure, but will that take the heat off of Romney for taking a pass?

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CNN’s Peter Hamby called Romney’s avoidance an “incredible moment in politics.” Conn Carroll at the Washington Examiner hammered Romney and questioned Romney’s commitment to reform:

The Ohio Chamber of Commerce, the Columbus Dispatch, the Cleveland Plain DealerTim Pawlenty, and multiple mayors have all backed Kasich’s law. The Plain Dealer wrote:

Ohio [can’t] pass up this opportunity to break with an unsustainable status quo. Yes, change is scary. But look around: Not changing is even scarier. When they mark their ballots, Ohioans cannot worry about what is best for any political party or interest group — on either side of this debate. They need to consider what’s best for the future of their children, their communities, their state.

If Romney can’t endorse this common sense reform at the state level, why should conservatives believe he will fight against government unions at the federal level.

Erick Erickson blasts Romney and the excuse that came from his campaign:

Playing it too safe is finally biting Romney in the rear end. He’s refused to call social security a ponzi scheme. He’s refused to offer bold economic reform plans. He’s refused to address significant changes in entitlement reforms. His whole campaign has centered around tapioca.

And today, while at a call center where volunteers were calling people to support Governor Kasich’s reforms, Mitt Romney . . . well . . .

But wait! What’s that you say? Romney is in Ohio supporting another ballot initiative? Well then I think we need to throw out three letters and a punctuation mark: W, T, and F, followed by a question mark and maybe an exclamation mark for good measure.

TPM also notices the dodge, but has a pretty good explanation for why Romney may be hedging his bets on SB5:

Of course, there seems to be a fairly simple explanation for Romney’s hedging: the bill looks to be going down hard. Quinnipiac’s polling showed that repeal forces have a 25 point lead at the moment, and a recent Public Policy Polling (D) survey showed a 20 point one.

And with the law seemingly going down in flames, it’s probably not good political maneuvering to come out hard in support of it. Romney was shown in a recent PPP survey to be in a good position in Ohio, with the pollster even going as far to say that if the election was held tomorrow, President Obama would lose the state to Romney.

I’m not sure that Romney’s statement really distances him from SB5, anyway.  Simply making the appearance at a phone bank set up explicitly to defend SB5 certainly implies an endorsement of the activity taking place.  But given that Romney appears to have selective principles about weighing in on ballot initiatives in Ohio, the lack of explicit endorsement will most likely hurt the campaign to defend Kasich’s PEU reforms.  That’s an outcome practically guaranteed to enrage conservatives looking to break the political stranglehold unions have on state politics and budgeting.

If Romney wasn’t prepared to endorse the GOP’s efforts on this ballot initiative, then he should have found another venue for his campaign today.

Update (Allahpundit): They call him Flipper, Flipper, faster than lightning…

“My friends in Ohio are fighting to defend crucial reforms that the state has put in place to limit the power of union bosses and keep taxes low,” Romney wrote on his Facebook page in June. “I stand with John R. Kasich and Ohio’s leaders as they take on this important fight to get control of government spending. Please visit www.BetterOhio.org for more information.”
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The website is devoted to advocating for “Issue 2,” the ballot measure which would ratifiy the collective bargaining legislation passed earlier this year. If the referendum fails, the law would be overturned.

Update (Allahpundit): Just released from Team Perry:

“Mitt Romney’s finger-in-the-wind politics continued today when he refused to support right-to-work reforms signed by Ohio Governor John Kasich – reforms Romney supported in June. Americans are tired of politicians who change their beliefs to match public opinion polls. Mitt Romney has a long record of doing this on issues like government-mandated health care and the Obama stimulus. Mitt Romney needs to realize that when you try to stand on both sides of an issue, you stand for nothing.”