From Romney, Perry, Mixed Campaign Messages

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It's been a week of mixed messaging from two of the campaigns on the presidential trail: that of former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney and current Texas Gov. Rick Perry.

Romney revived accusations that he's a flip-flopper when he waded into a battle over a ballot proposal in Ohio. Perry created his own distraction by revisiting questions about President Obama's place of birth.

Romney stopped by a phone bank outside Cincinnati this week to boost GOP volunteers working on Issue 2, which is on the statewide ballot in less than two weeks. If passed, the measure, backed by Ohio Gov. John Kasich, would clear the way for restrictions on public workers' ability to strike and bargain.

But in Ohio, Romney stopped short of endorsing the ballot measure. His opponents pounced.

"It looks a little bit like his position on the debt ceiling, a little bit like his position on Libya," former Utah Gov. Jon Huntsman told ABC News on Wednesday. "It smacks a little bit of leading from behind. This is a time when if you're going to be president of the United States, you show a little bit of presidential leadership."

Meanwhile, Perry's campaign accused Romney of "finger-in-the-wind politics." It noted that in June, Romney supported the ballot proposal. Polls do show the measure to be unpopular. Ohio State University political scientist Paul Beck says backing Issue 2 may not play well in a state that is expected to be a hotly contested battleground in the 2012 general election.

"But he surely knew what the opinion polls were saying, and his staffers or he himself would have seen that and certainly would have called that to his attention," Beck said. "And so he was being coy, it sounds like."

But on Wednesday, at a phone-bank operation in Fairfax, Va., Romney offered a new answer on the Ohio ballot question.

"I'm sorry if I created any confusion in that regard. I fully support Gov. Kasich's, I think it's called Question 2, in Ohio," he said. "I fully support that."

The Perry campaign followed with a statement awarding Romney a score of 10.0 on what it called the flip-flop scale. It created a Twitter campaign under the hashtag "flipflopmitt."

But even as Perry tried to capitalize, he had a change of position of his own over the same 24-hour period. Earlier, in an interview with Parade magazine, Perry said he had no idea if Obama's Hawaii birth certificate is real. On Tuesday, on CNBC, he was asked to clarify.

"It's a good issue to keep alive," he said. "Just, you know, Donald's got to have some fun."

Donald refers to Donald Trump, a leading force in the so-called "birther movement" that casts doubt on whether Obama was born in the U.S.

But on Wednesday, Perry backed off in an interview with a Tampa Bay, Fla., TV station.

"I don't think I was expressing doubts. I was having some fun with Donald Trump," he said. "Look, it's fun to lighten up about it."

He added: "I have no doubt about it."

The issue took away from Perry's real and planned topic of the week: his new flat-tax proposal, while Romney would have liked to do nothing but criticize president Obama.

These are just the kind of distractions campaigns hope to avoid; candidates don't always cooperate.

Copyright 2011 National Public Radio. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

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