Across the country, the elections offered a mixed forecast heading into 2012, but party strategists say the results in Ohio may carry greater political importance.
“What happened in Ohio was meaningful,” said senior Obama strategist David Axelrod. “And the effort behind it was also meaningful. The sort of Democratic progressive machinery was sort of notched back there in the last election, and they rallied here in a big way.”
While Republicans picked up legislative seats in Virginia after trying to tie Democrats there to Obama, the GOP won fewer seats than predicted and appeared to have gained control of the state Senate only by a hair.
And in Mississippi, Democrats and their liberal allies scored an important victory, beating back an attempt to declare that a fertilized egg is a person under the law — a symbolic win for the left but one that is not expected to make such a conservative state competitive next year.
It was the Ohio win that Democrats hope will be most predictive. In it, they see evidence that their party can still prevail in an economically battered state and that, after being challenged by GOP governors in Ohio, Wisconsin and elsewhere, public-sector unions remain a potent political force.
“It is very clear that the headwinds we faced in 2010 are gone,” said Obama’s campaign manager, Jim Messina. “We are now to a place where we are organizing on the ground, and working hard and having some successes.”
But Tuesday’s results in Ohio also signaled at least one weakness for the president: Voters approved a state constitutional amendment to “preserve the freedom of Ohioans to choose their health care and health care coverage.” Known as Issue 3, the measure was seen as a rebuke of Obama’s health-care law. That was offset by the huge win on the collective-bargaining measure, known as Issue 2.
“If the Democrats claim a big victory and a testing of their organization on Issue 2, what happened on Issue 3?” asked Robert Bennett, former chairman of the Ohio Republican Party.
Still, Democrats saw the collective-bargaining vote as a test run for 2012. Volunteers from Obama’s campaign joined forces with labor unions for a full-blown push. Aides said that in the final two weeks of the campaign, the president’s network recruited more than 2,500 volunteers, set up about 30 staging areas across Ohio and reached voters through more than 250,000 phone calls and door knocks.
“This gave us a good chance to start the reelection campaign from a formal standpoint,” said Chris Redfern, chairman of the Ohio Democratic Party.
The collective-bargaining campaign was a major rallying point for the labor movement. The union-backed political committee formed to repeal the state law raised about $30 million for the effort.