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Big win for Democrats in Ohio and an abortion surprise in Mississippi

The outcomes Tuesday in balloting from Maine to Mississippi included enough wins for Democrats, abortion rights advocates, and labor unions to give a bit of a lift to President Obama and his allies as they look toward the 2012 elections, 12 months from tonight.

In Ohio, voters overwhelmingly rejected the law enacted last spring by Gov. John Kasich and the Republican-controlled legislature that limited the ability of public employee unions to collectively bargain.

The law also would have required performance-based pay for most public employees and required them to pay 15 percent of the cost of their health care benefits.

Democratic National Committee Chair Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz cheered the outcome in Ohio calling the law “a blatantly partisan attempt to lay the blame for our economy on middle-class Americans, while letting the wealthiest and special interests off the hook and not asking them to pay their fair share. Voters in Ohio know that targeting public employees for political reasons will do nothing to create jobs or boost Ohio’s economy.”

Yet at the same time that Ohio voters were boosting labor unions, they also delivered at least a symbolic rebuff to Obama’s health care reform law by overwhelmingly approving a ballot measure saying that no federal, state, or local law or rule could compel any person or employer to participate in a health care system. The practical effect of that Ohio measure hinges on the outcome of legal challenges in federal courts to Obama’s health care law.

In Mississippi, abortion rights advocates scored a somewhat surprising victory as voters defeated Initiative 26, a proposed amendment to the state’s constitution that would have defined the word “person” to include every human being “from the moment of fertilization, cloning, or the functional equivalent thereof.”

More than 55 percent of voters were voted “no” on the ballot measure, The Associated Press reported, falling far short of the threshold needed for it to be enacted.

A statement from Planned Parenthood cheered the victory, saying “Mississippi voters rejected the so-called ‘personhood’ amendment because they understood it is government gone too far, and would have allowed government to have control over personal decisions that should be left up to a woman, her family, her doctor and her faith….”

Both the Republican and Democratic candidates for governor had backed the measure.

Proponents of Initiative 26 said its passage would be a historic triumph for anti-abortion forces, but Republican Gov. Haley Barbour indicated he had misgivings about its effect on in vitro fertilization and ectopic pregnancies, even as he said he had voted for it.

Veteran conservative lawyer and anti-abortion activist James Bopp had criticized the ballot measure, saying it might open the way to a new Supreme Court ruling strengthening abortion rights.

Meanwhile, Mississippi voters also gave overwhelming approval to a ballot initiative that will create a photo identification requirement for voters. According to the National Council of State Legislatures, Mississippi will now be the 31st state with a voter ID requirement and the eighth with a strict photo ID requirement.

In Arizona, Republican state Sen. Russell Pearce, architect of the tough immigration law cracking down on illegal immigrantst that thrust the issue into the national political debate, was ousted from office in a recall election. The moderate Republican who defeated him had made immigration a constant theme, saying Pearce's hard-line policies harmed Arizona's image.

In another victory for Democrats, Maine voters were headed toward a rejection of an attempt by the Republican-controlled state legislature to put an end to Election Day voter registration in the state.

Maine has had Election Day voter registration since 1973.

In two governors’ races, the parties each picked up a win:

In Kentucky, Democratic Gov. Steve Beshear, as expected, won a second term, defeating Republican state Senate President David Williams.

In Mississippi, also very much as expected, Republican Lt. Gov. Phil Bryant defeated underfunded Democrat Johnny DuPree, the mayor of Hattiesburg and the state’s first African-American gubernatorial nominee.

Barbour could not run due to Mississippi’s term limit.

With Bryant’s victory, Republicans have now won five of the last six gubernatorial elections in Mississippi. No Democrat has carried the Magnolia State in a presidential election since Jimmy Carter in 1976.

In Virginia Republicans appeared headed toward a major victory -- gaining control of the state Senate. As Election Day started, the Democrats controlled the 40-member Senate with 22 members.

Democrat Roscoe Reynolds lost his bid for a fourth term to freshman GOP Sen. Bill Stanley in the state Senate's marquee race, bringing the GOP to within one seat of a 20-20 split.

In the deciding race, Democratic Sen. Edd Houck trailed Republican Bryce Reeves by 86 votes out of nearly 45,000 cast with all precincts reporting in a race too close to call, according to The Associated Press. The narrow margin is likely subject to a recount.

An evenly divided Senate gives Republicans an upper hand, since Republican Lt. Gov. Bill Bolling would have the power to break a 20-20 tie, but will likely yield equal numbers of Democrats and Republicans on Senate committees, the AP reported.

Political strategists were carefully watching the Virginia elections to see glimmers of insight into how Obama and Democratic Senate candidate Tim Kaine might fare in 2012.