Romney steers clear of OH health, union issues

TERRACE PARK, Ohio (AP) - Republican presidential contender Mitt Romney avoided weighing in Tuesday on Ohio ballot campaigns on union bargaining and President Barack Obama's health care overhaul as he focused on trying to win a state that he acknowledges is pivotal.

Romney visited a Republican Party center in the Cincinnati suburb of Terrace Park, where volunteers have been making phone calls in support of Nov. 8 ballot issues to uphold legislation restricting collective bargaining for public employees and on whether to exempt Ohioans from the Obama plan's individual insurance coverage mandate.

Romney told Republican officials he wasn't there to endorse those issues, leaving them up to Ohioans. He instead used his visit to promote his campaign with Republican activists. No Republican in modern times has won the presidency without carrying Ohio.

"I know that Ohio plays kind of a special role in selecting the president of the United States," Romney said. "If you don't win Ohio, it's real hard to become president of the United States. So if I'm fortunate enough to become our nominee, I intend to win Ohio with your help."

In his speech in the small, packed center, Romney listed "Obamacare" as one of the president's failed policies. He said he could draw on his business experience to create jobs to ease unemployment, while saying Obama has focused instead on an agenda that includes expanding government.

"He doesn't understand we're a nation led by people, not led by government," Romney said. "And you're here making calls to make that message very clear: You want a state that's led by people, not by government. That's the battle which is going on."

Romney's critics say his opposition to Obama's plan conflicts with his enactment of a similar health insurance mandate in Massachusetts when he was governor. Romney has said there are important differences, including that state voters can get rid of the plan if they want.

A state Democratic Party spokesman said Romney came to Ohio to join Republican Gov. John Kasich's "attack on the middle class" and suggested he backed away from Kasich-backed Issue 2, the collective bargaining issue, because of polling showing growing opposition in the state.

Spokesman Seth Bringman said Romney's visit to thank those "working to take away" bargaining rights from police, firefighters, teachers and nurses "makes it pretty clear where Mitt Romney stands - at least for as much as Mitt Romney has been clear on any issue."

Some conservative activists in southwest Ohio, a key Republican area, are unenthused about, or opposed to, Romney, disliking his health care plan and his former position in support of abortion rights. Businessman Herman Cain and Texas Rep. Ron Paul have done better than Romney in recent straw polls. Ohio's presidential primary has been moved back to June 12, making it less likely to be crucial in the GOP nomination race, but Romney supporters said he is the Republican most likely to win the general election.

Attorney Ken Heuck, who sported a "Romney `68" campaign button from the candidate's late father George Romney's presidential campaign, said he thinks Mitt Romney showed by winning election in Massachusetts that he has broad appeal.

"You need somebody who can reach out to everyone," Heuck said. Romney also got an endorsement Tuesday from Ohio Attorney General and former U.S. Sen. Mike DeWine. DeWine said in a statement that Romney is the best candidate to beat Obama and that he also "understands what it takes to create and maintain jobs."

U.S. Rep. Jim Renacci, R-Wadsworth, and former state Attorney General Betty Montgomery were among other Republicans endorsing Romney.

(Copyright 2011 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)