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Election results 2011: Voters signal that GOP overreached

Election results 2011 point to cautious voters, not moving sharply left or right. Voters did deal big setbacks to some Republican causes, but it's hard to read that as a boost to Obama's reelection bid.

By Staff writer / November 9, 2011

Issue 2 opponents cheer at a rally co-sponsored by the Cleveland Teachers Union and We Are Ohio in Cleveland as Issue 2 as they hear election results sounding the defeat of Issue 2 in the Ohio general election on Tuesday. By voting no on Issue 2, Ohioans overturned the controversial Senate Bill 5 which, among other things, limited collective bargaining for 350,000 unionized public workers.

Amy Sancetta/AP

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In an election that may offer an early glimpse of the political climate for next year's presidential contest, American voters showed they are frustrated but cautious – not moving sharply left or right.

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Voters who cast their ballots Tuesday dished up big servings of humble pie to both major political parties.

Mississippi voters, in a surprise reversal of expectations, defeated conservatives' efforts to win America's first "personhood" law relating to human embryos. The ballot initiative would have declared that life begins at the moment of fertilization – a challenge to abortion rights that for a time looked set to pass in the Bible Belt state.

And in Ohio, a key swing state for the coming presidential race, voters overturned a Republican-backed law curbing the bargaining power of public-sector labor unions.

It was a major win for liberals, indicating that voters have limits when it comes to embracing Republican prescriptions for curbs on union power and related cuts in government spending as a solution for budget deficits. The outcome ripples beyond Ohio, energizing the spirits of labor unions and their supporters nationwide.

If those outcomes signal that many voters believe Republicans overreached coming out of their victorious 2010 midterm elections, it's hard to read Tuesday's overall results as giving any major boost to President Obama's bid for reelection. He will be battling high disapproval ratings over his own performance and public frustration over the weak economy. Traditionally, high unemployment rates pose a big obstacle to retaining the White House.

"Based on the likely state of the economy in 2012, President Obama faces a steep uphill task to secure reelection," said a recent analysis by economists at the forecasting firm IHS Global Insight, based in Lexington, Mass. "A Republican opponent lacking broad appeal could tilt the balance back in favor of the president. But it does appear that this is an election that is the Republicans' to lose."

In fact, even as Ohio voters handed Democrats a win on union bargaining power, those same voters passed a ballot initiative to prohibit people from being required to buy health insurance as part of the national health-care overhaul. The vote was mostly symbolic, but Republicans hope to use it in a legal challenge to Obama's health-care reform law.

The Republican Party also picked up at least one seat in the Virginia state Senate, a litmus test of voters' mood in another vital swing state that Mr. Obama won in 2008. A second Virginia Senate seat hung in the vote-counting balance early Wednesday, which could potentially give Republicans effective control of the legislature, as well as the governorship.

Recent nationwide opinion polls reveal a frustrated electorate, with a large majority seeing the nation going down the "wrong track." Yet that frustration is fueled partly by a desire among independent voters for more moderation in policies – such as compromises by both parties on core issues such as taxes and spending.

The votes on Tuesday reflected a certain caution about radical change. Many Ohioans sympathized with core elements of the Republican law restricting public employee unions, yet overturned it because of concerns that it went too far.

The Ohio law called on public employees to pay more for their health care, and to have their pay and job security tied more to performance rather than seniority. But it also would have stripped unions' rights to strike and the ability of unions to collect dues from public employees who benefit financially from collective bargaining but do not join the union.

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