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Backlash wounds Romney

Republican capture of numerous governorships and legislatures in 2009 and 2010 should be helping GOP presidential nominee Mitt Romney in 2012. But it may not be.

Indeed, Romney seems to be suffering in several key states from a backlash against conservative policies the Republicans brought to office along with their promises of budgetary and economic reforms.

In any election, multiple factors affect the outcome. But there are signs of negative reactions to GOP policies in the details of polls showing President Barack Obama leading Romney in such key electoral battlegrounds as Virginia, Iowa, Ohio, Wisconsin and Florida.

All but Wisconsin voted Republican in 2004 before backing Obama in 2008. Romney must regain most of them to win, because Obama can get 242 of the required 270 electoral votes by holding the 18 states and District of Columbia that voted Democratic in the last five elections.

In both Virginia and Iowa, GOP efforts or threats to curb abortions may be one reason Obama has larger leads among women than in 2008. In Wisconsin and Ohio, initiatives by GOP governors to curb government employee unions may be contributing to a labor backlash that is expanding his 2008 lead in union households. And in Florida, the Republican governor’s unpopularity may be hurting Romney.

Virginia Republicans launched various initiatives aimed at restricting abortions, including new rules for clinics that perform them and threatened to require women considering abortions to undergo trans-vaginal ultrasound tests. Last week, The Washington Post reported its polling shows Obama leads Romney by more among women in Virginia than among them nationwide.

In addition, three separate polls last week showed Obama’s margin among Virginia women is far bigger than his seven-point lead in 2008, when he became the first Democrat to capture Virginia in 44 years. His lead ranges from 12 points in a Quinnipiac/CBS News/New York Times poll to 19 points in the Post survey.

In Iowa, a narrow Democratic state Senate majority blocked GOP proposals for new restrictions against abortions, including eliminating the exemption for pregnancies resulting from rape and incest and punishing doctors with up to life imprisonment for performing abortions. But Republican Gov. Terry Branstad recently said that, if the GOP captures the state Senate in November, the legislature might vote to restrict abortion rights and ban gay marriage.

A recent NBC News-Marist Iowa poll showed Obama leading among all likely voters by eight points, similar to his nine-point 2008 margin. But among women, he led by 18 points, well above his prior 12-point margin.

In Wisconsin and Ohio, meanwhile, Romney is suffering from opposing Obama’s successful efforts to revive the domestic auto industry. But moves by Republican Govs. Scott Walker and John Kasich to curb government employee unions may be exacerbating the impact among union members.

Several recent polls showed Obama leading by more among union households than in 2008. In Wisconsin, where Walker’s efforts sparked a bitter fight including an unsuccessful effort to recall him, a Quinnipiac/CBS News/New York Times poll showed Obama’s margin in union households has soared from 22 points in 2008 to 37 points. In Ohio, a Fox News poll showed him leading by 16 points, compared with 13 points in 2008.

In Florida, there’s no statistical evidence that specific issues are damaging Romney. But it’s telling that unpopular freshman Gov. Rick Scott has rarely appeared at his Florida appearances. Scott’s aggressive efforts to curb voting, fight Obamacare and reject federal-state economic measures have garnered an approval-disapproval ratio in a recent Fox poll of 39-49, including negative ratings in every major group except Republicans, Romney voters and those over 65. Overall, Obama led by five points, within the three-point margin of error in this and other polls cited above.

Like Kasich in Ohio, Scott has undercut Romney’s anti-Obama economic message by touting improvements in Florida.

With six weeks and three debates remaining, Romney still has time and opportunities to overcome Obama’s margin. But the issues created by Republicans in these five states mean he will get little help from colleagues who ought to be assets.

Carl P. Leubsdorf is the former Washington bureau chief of the Dallas Morning News. Readers may write to him via email at: carl.p.leubsdorfgmail.com. Distributed by MCT Information Services.

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