Election Day 2011 and what we learned

at 10:58 AM ET, 11/09/2011

Election Day 2011 is (almost) over, and with the benefit of a little sleep and some coffee, it’s time to mine the results for lessons.

Here are four we came away with:

1. The unions can still bring it

Yes, the unions came up short earlier this year in Wisconsin – twice – but in both a state Supreme Court race and in the state Senate recall elections, they caused Republicans a major, expensive headache. Well, in Tuesday’s elections, unions caused Republicans a major headache AND they won big.
Marchyco Harrell, right, a teacher in the Lorain City Schools, and Verlene DeWitt, a teacher in the Westlake City Schools, listen to speakers at a rally co-sponsored by the Cleveland Teachers Union and We Are Ohio in Cleveland on Tuesday. (AP Photo/Amy Sancetta)

The unions overwhelming victory on Issue 2, which nullifies Ohio Gov. John Kasich’s (R) law curbing the collective bargaining rights of unions, left Kasich conciliatory and unions jubilant.

You have to believe, after seeing what happened in Wisconsin and Ohio, that budget-cutting Republican governors are going to think twice about crossing labor. It’s just too much of a hassle.

2. Mixed signals on 2012 in Ohio

The Ohio results will be intensely parsed for clues about the next election. Democrats hailed Issue 2 as evidence of their momentum, while Republicans hailed a competing Ohio ballot issue – a symbolic vote against the individual mandate portion of President Obama’s health-care bill (it passed by an even wider margin than Issue 2, nearly two-to-one) – as evidence that they have the edge.

In reality, the truth is somewhere in between. Laws that limit collective bargaining rights are less popular than Republicans overall, and the individual mandate is less popular than Democrats overall.

Yes, the unions could be very helpful turning out Democrats in 2012, but Obama’s health-care bill could be very helpful turning out Republicans. The Democratic win was the reason most people came out to vote and was definitely the better measure of the parties’ electoral machines.

But Obama’s health -care bill is probably more of an issue for 2012. It is, after all, the president ’s bill and Obama is the one on the ballot next November.

3. A downballot draw

Republicans won the state legislative battle on Tuesday, but they may not get credit for it unless they win the Virginia state Senate (where the deciding race could be headed for a recount). The GOP was also threatening to take both chambers in Mississippi for the first time since Reconstruction and earned its largest-ever majority in the Virginia House.

In other races, though, Democrats have something to crow about. They won a battle over same-day voter registration in Maine (another rebuke of GOP-controlled state government), they held the Iowa state Senate in a special election, they re-elected a popular Democratic governor by a wide-margin in conservative Kentucky, and Charlotte Mayor Anthony Foxx (D) was overwhelmingly re-elected in a city the White House sees as key to Obama winning North Carolina again.

“These and other results make two issues clear: voters are rejecting the extreme agenda of the Republican Party, and the organizing efforts of progressive volunteers and supporters are making a difference,” wrote Jeremy Bird, national field director for the Obama campaign. Democrats also won the big battle Tuesday in Ohio, and for a party that needs some wins, it’s a welcome development.

Republicans, meanwhile, suggested that Democratic victories came largely in spite of Obama. “Even in areas where Democrats are seeing success there is a telling phenomenon: Democrats don’t want to campaign with Obama,” said Sean Spicer, a spokesman for the Republican National Committee.

4. Abortion will have to wait

The so-called “personhood” amendment in Mississippi didn’t cut neatly along partisan lines, which is why it’s not mentioned above. But Republican presidential candidates are probably glad it didn’t pass.

A successful “personhood” amendment would have been the first in the country and threatened to throw a controversial abortion measure – that couldn’t even pass in Mississippi! – into the presidential dialogue. All of a sudden, Mitt Romney, Rick Perry and Herman Cain would have to answer whether they support the language of the measure, which would label a fertilized egg as a person.

Opponents contended that the amendment would criminalize birth control, affect in-vitro fertilization and may prevent doctors from providing chemotherapy to pregnant women. Even Mississippi Gov. Haley Barbour (R) was hesitant to back it.

In other words, it’s something that Republicans would rather not have to take a position on.

Full coverage of election results

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