Stung by the defeat on the Ohio labor referendum, Republicans have sought to focus attention today on the vote that went their way — the Yes vote on the referendum repudiating an individual mandate. They say it represents a rebuke to one of Obama’s signature domestic initiatives in a key swing state in advance of 2012.

On the conference call I referenced earlier, Sherrod Brown was repeatedly prodded on this point. He rejected the claim, arguing that the labor fight had vast resources invested in it from both sides, and the health care fight didn’t.

“I didn’t see one ad,” Brown said. “The language on Issue 3 was confusing. They took one part of the bill and did a message amendment on it that didn’t have a lot of meaning.”

Here’s the language in Issue 3:

1. In Ohio, no law or rule shall compel, directly or indirectly, any person, employer, or health care provider to participate in a health care system.

2. In Ohio, no law or rule shall prohibit the purchase or sale of health care or health insurance.

3. In Ohio, no law or rule shall impose a penalty or fine for the sale or purchase of healthcare or health insurance.

A Yes vote on this does seem to be a clear a rebuke of the type of individual mandate Obama’s health reform law contained. That said, it’s hard to know what a vote on the mandate in isolation adds up to in terms of a rebuke of the health law overall or of Obama’s overall performance.

Relatedly, Mark Murray asks a clever question — if this is a rebuke of Obama, isn’t it also a rebuke of Romneycare, which also contains an individual mandate? I’d say the answer is Yes and No. Romney has advocated for a “federalist” model, in which each state adopts its own health reform solutions. In this sense, Ohio’s vote isn’t a rebuke to Romney’s overall approach. On the other hand, Romney has explicitly said he hopes for “a nation that’s taken a mandate approach.”

The broader point is that even if yesterday’s Ohio health care vote was a narrow rebuke to Obama’s individual mandate — which it probably was — it’s going to be hard for Republicans to make an issue out of the mandate if Romney is the nominee.