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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 equivocation not only highlighted his record of shifting
positions but also underscored 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.
A day earlier, the former Massachusetts governor visited a site
near Cincinnati where volunteers were making hundreds of phone
calls to help Republicans defeat the Issue Two ballot effort. The
question before voters is whether to repeal Ohio Gov. John Kasich's
restrictions on public sector employee bargaining. But when
pressed, Romney took a pass on supporting the measure - and just as
a Quinnipiac University poll indicated that Ohio voters opposed the
GOP-backed restrictions 57 percent to 32 percent.
It turned out that Romney had already 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
President Barack 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.
Some observers questioned whether Romney's response had less to
do with the GOP primary, which Ohio will hold well after the early
voting states, and more to do with the general election and the
need to woo independent voters.
On the other hand, Romney may lose the party loyalists he needs
to get the GOP nomination by waffling on the matter.
"The people who would be paying the most attention to this are
probably the base of the Republican Party, and that's why it has
the potential to be most damaging to him," said veteran Ohio
political scientist Gene Beaupre of Xavier University.
At one time, presidential candidates visiting Iowa would stumble
over that state's pet issue: federal subsidies for ethanol, the
fuel additive the state leads in producing. But the issue has faded
as a litmus test in the years since Bob Dole, a strong advocate,
won the Iowa caucuses while opponent Phil Gramm of Texas finished a
disappointing fifth.
That hasn't stopped Romney this year from noting his support for
- and Perry's opposition to - the federal renewable fuel standard
as Romney seeks Iowa agribusiness' support.
In South Carolina, candidates always are asked about flying the
Confederate battle flag on Statehouse grounds. Supporters say it
honors heritage and valiant native sons; opponents, led by the
National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, say it
is a divisive reminder of slavery. Republicans usually say the flag
is a state matter, but Arizona Sen. John McCain said after losing
the 2000 primary that he should have spoken out on the issue and
admitted that he feared opposing the flag would scuttle his chances
in the state.
This year, candidates campaigning in South Carolina have been
all but forced to weigh in on Boeing's efforts to build a plant in
the state.
And in South Carolina and Nevada, opening Yucca Mountain as a
nuclear waste depository is a sensitive issue, for opposite
reasons.
South Carolina's congressional delegation wants the site in
Nevada opened to relieve the Savannah River site, which has been
storing nuclear weapons waste. That made recent debate
pronouncements by Romney, Perry and Texas Rep. Ron Paul against
using the Nevada site hard to swallow for some South Carolina
Republicans.
"It's got to go somewhere, and we can't wait for them to figure
out where it's going to go," Republican Gov. Nikki Haley said.
Voters "are going to want to know what their answers are to
that."
In New Hampshire, candidates have had to weigh in on a
right-to-work drive aimed at unions.
Romney has already voiced support, saying in an August stop in
Claremont, N.H., that "people should have the choice of deciding
whether or not they want to join a union and have union dues."


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