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Arizona State Senator Russell Pearce (L) speaks about his recall election during a news conference in Mesa, Arizona November 8, 2011. (JOSHUA LOTT/JOSHUA LOTT/REUTERS)
Arizona State Senator Russell Pearce (L) speaks about his recall election during a news conference in Mesa, Arizona November 8, 2011. (JOSHUA LOTT/JOSHUA LOTT/REUTERS)

U.S. politics

Republicans face series of rebukes in state elections Add to ...

For the first time since 2008, Democrats spent an election night celebrating. And nowhere did they party harder than in Ohio, perhaps the swingiest state of them all.

Ohio has sided with the winner in every presidential election since 1960 and Barack Obama’s fate could rest once more with voters there in 2012.

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So, Tuesday’s victory of an Ohio ballot initiative aimed at repealing Republican Governor John Kasich’s sweeping new labour legislation – which all but eliminates collective bargaining in the public sector – was welcome news at the White House.

In part, it showed that the coalition that helped elect Mr. Obama in 2008 could be reassembled and gain an early organizational advantage over Republican forces in a key battleground state. Ohioans voted to strike down the law, a key plank of the GOP agenda in Ohio and other states, by a resounding 61 per cent to 39 per cent.

We Are Ohio, the group behind the repeal effort, outspent proponents of the legislation by 4-to-1. Its organizers and volunteers, recruited from union, youth and Democratic ranks, could now to migrate to Obama for America for the 2012 campaign.

Ohio was not the only state in which Democrats poured the bubbly on Tuesday.

For Republicans across the country, state elections delivered one rebuke after another. The anti-union, anti-abortion and anti-immigration agenda that the GOP has pushed since making huge gains in state legislatures after 2008 suddenly hit a wall.

In Mississippi, one of the most conservative states in the country, voters rejected a proposed amendment to the state constitution that would have effectively criminalized abortion.

The so-called “personhood” amendment would have defined life “to include every human being from the moment of fertilization, cloning or the functional equivalent thereof.” Had it passed, the measure would have made all abortions in the state illegal, banned the morning-after pill and made in-vitro fertilization a potential crime.

The so-called Personhood movement had hoped a victory in Mississippi would build momentum for similar initiatives in other states. Instead, it is licking its wounds.

In Arizona, the author of the state’s harsh crackdown on illegal immigrants was on the verge of losing his job as voters in State Senate president Russell Pearce’s district backed a recall effort to oust him.

Mr. Pearce is the chief sponsor of SB 1070, the 2010 law that requires state law-enforcement authorities to verify the immigration status of people they suspect of being in the country illegally. The law has yet to fully take effect. Lower courts have ruled parts of it unconstitutional since immigration is a federal responsibility in the United States.

Still, Mr. Pearce is considered a hero among U.S. proponents of a crackdown on illegal immigration and SB 1070 has sparked the passage or introduction of similar laws in several states.

Although the final results of the recall vote will not be known until early and provisional ballots, equivalent to advance polls, are counted in coming days, Mr. Pearce has all but conceded defeat.

The news on Tuesday night was not all pleasant for Mr. Obama. Voters in Ohio also chose by a margin of 2-to-1 to pass an amendment to the state constitution would frustrate implementation of the President’s health-care reforms by making it illegal to make health insurance mandatory.

Mr. Obama’s 2010 law includes a so-called “individual mandate” that requires Americans, subject to fines, to purchase health insurance on their own if they are not covered by their employer. Low-income earners would receive subsidies to do so.

U.S. conservatives have argued that the mandate violates individual freedom and two dozen GOP-led states have challenged the law in the courts. Several cases are making their way through the legal system and the Supreme Court is likely to be called on to determine the constitutionality of ObamaCare by 2013.

The Ohio amendment is a (mostly symbolic) snub to the President. But it suggests that, like Republican state leaders, he too could be sanctioned by voters next year for over-reaching early in his mandate.

Still, the White House comes out of Tuesday’s elections feeling more encouraged than chastened.

Getting your vote out is especially important in so-called off-year votes. And Ohio Democrats showed their ground game is in fine form. That could make all the difference for Mr. Obama in 2012.

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