Republicans and Democrats each had something to crow about last night. In Mississippi, voters chose a Republican governor (Phil Bryant) to succeed another Republican (Haley Barbour) — a first in more than 125 years. In Kentucky, Democrat Steve Beshear won reelection going away.

In Virginia, Republicans — by a razor-thin margin, with a recount sure to follow — scratched to a 20-20 split in the state Senate. With the tiebreaking vote in the Senate of Lt. Gov. Bill Bolling (R), the GOP will (just barely) have control of both state houses and the governorship, provided the vote total holds up. However, more than anything this is a testament to gerrymandering. Dave Wasserman of the Cook Political Report explained by tweet at one point last night: “Dems winning 420k votes to 661k GOP votes in #VAsen races (39%) and winning 52.5% of seats.” Thankfully for the GOP, redistricting plays no part in the U.S. Senate and presidential races.

On ballot propositions, Ohio’s restriction on collective bargaining went down in flames, but by a huge margin voters supported a largely symbolic measure to bar individual mandates for health insurance.

In Mississippi the “personhood” amendment was defeated. Pre-life advocates were quick to point out that major pro-life groups actually opposed the measure. John McCormack writes:

“The amendment did not have the backing of major pro-life groups, such as National Right to Life Committee and Americans United for Life, or major religious institutions, such as Mississippi’s Catholic bishops, the United States Council of Catholic Bishops, the Methodist church, and the Episcopal Church. Mississippi’s personhood amendment was counterproductive, imprudent, and ill-defined. Had it passed, it wouldn’t have stopped a single abortion and would have merely given the Supreme Court another opportunity to re-affirm Roe v. Wade. Furthermore, Mississippi already has a ‘trigger law’ on the books to ban 99 percent of abortions when Roe v. Wade is overturned. Whereas the ‘trigger law’ makes exceptions for extreme and rare cases when the mother’s life is threatened or in the case of rape, the personhood amendment didn’t contain any explicit exceptions.”

If there is a message here, it is : Don’t overreach. Voters aren’t necessarily prepared to make large, uncertain changes that don’t seem connected to their own financial well-being. Voters are looking for better economic times and smarter government, not radical steps.

Conservative partisans err in concluding, just as President Obama did in his first two years, that bad economic times have softened the ground for extreme steps. Republicans would be wise to stick to bread-and-butter issues, and make sure they can sell to the center-right coalition. That reality may disappoint the loudest voices in the blogosphere, but it’s solid advice for actual candidates and office-holders.