Mitt Romney spent some time in Ohio today, and he even showed up at an Ohio Republican Party phone bank in suburban Cincinnati, where callers were working the phones on Issue 2, the doomed ballot measure that would allow the anti-union bill SB 5 to become law. People in Ohio happen to like collective bargaining rights and the right to strike, they like public safety workers and teachers, so this ballot measure is destined for a major Republican defeat. And there’s Mitt Romney, in the room where the Ohio Republican Party is making calls on Issue 2… refusing to take a position on it.

One of them, Issue 2, would overturn Senate Bill 5 –the controversial legislation backed by Republican Gov. John Kasich that curbs collective bargaining rights for public employees.

Another measure, Issue 3, would amend the state constitution to forbid the state and federal government from imposing a mandate to buy health insurance.

Romney expressed generic support for Kasich’s efforts to curtail union rights, but he would not say whether he supports or opposes the specific measures.

“I am not speaking about the particular ballot issues,” Romney said, only after repeated questions from reporters. “Those are up to the people of Ohio. But I certainly support the efforts of the governor to reign in the scale of government. I am not terribly familiar with the two ballot initiatives. But I am certainly supportive of the Republican Party’s efforts here.”

The other irony here is that Issue 3, which does have a shot at victory (even though it’s mainly symbolic and unenforceable), is about the individual mandate, which Romney of course installed in Massachusetts.

This little tableau tells us a lot about the upcoming Presidential campaign and the relative salience of these issues. In the abstract, Romney has talked about “ending Obamacare” and moving the country to a right-to-work posture. When he has the specific opportunity to stake out a position for union-busting and against mandates, he declines. He declines, first of all, because union-busting will be the losing side in about two weeks. And second of all, he declines because he’s completely compromised on an issue that has brought together the entire Republican base.

Labor is actually feared in Ohio again, that’s what this tells me in part. The sleeping giant has been awakened.

UPDATE: This is just classic Romney:

Romney campaign spokeswoman Andrea Saul, asked by TPM whether the Gov. supports keeping SB 5 in place, said in an email: “Gov. Romney believes that the citizens of states should be able to make decisions about important matters of policy that affect their states on their own.”

Bold!

UPDATE II: Conservatives are giving Mittens a huge amount of crap for this. This could have legs because it speaks to failing to have loyalty, which the GOP base values as much as they do their extreme positions.