Ohio victory for unions gives Obama fresh hope

Swing state rejects conservative measure in key referendum ahead of US elections
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Ohio's voters have comprehensively thrown out a state law curbing union rights – one in a series of setbacks for conservative initiatives across the country that could be an encouraging portent for Barack Obama and the Democrats less than a year before the presidential election.

The Ohio referendum, on a measure that severely limited the collective bargaining rights of public sector unions, was the most closely watched result on Tuesday's election night 2011, in a key swing state that often decides the outcome of presidential elections.

The law was rejected by a margin of 62 to 38 per cent. But analysts warned yesterday that, given the low turnout in off-year elections (those that are held in a year when no presidential election takes place), the outcome was no guarantee that Mr Obama would be victorious in a state which he carried by a margin of only 4.6 per cent in 2008, and one which could again be pivotal in next November's election for the White House.

Nonetheless, it represents a much-needed success for the union movement, a major source of funds and grassroots organisation for Democrats, but whose clout and membership has dwindled in recent years.

"Ohio sent a message to every politician out there: go in and make war on your employees rather than make jobs with your employees, and you do so at your own peril," said a jubilant Richard Trumka, president of the AFL-CIO labour confederation.

More generally, the Republicans' defeat in Ohio may be another sign, following the emergence of the Occupy Wall Street movement, that after the sharp swing to the right at last year's mid-term elections, the political pendulum could be swinging leftwards again. The result encouraged Democrats to believe that they can regain lost ground in other traditionally close-fought states in the industrial mid-west, after the drubbing of 2010.

As the referendum result came in, John Kasich, Ohio's Republican governor, who had campaigned relentlessly in support of the law, acknowledged that voters "might have said it was too much, too soon". Those words, according to many commentators, summed up the overall lesson of the night for Republicans: don't overreach, keep it simple and focus on the basic problems of the struggling economy. This meant, first and foremost, unemployment.

That too appeared to be the message from voters in Mississippi as they rejected the bitterly controversial "personhood" initiative promoted by social conservatives that would have outlawed not only abortion but certain forms of contraception, by declaring human life started at the moment of fertilisation.

Another setback for the far right came in Arizona, as voters in a special recall election threw out the state senator Russell Pearce – an idol of the anti-government Tea Party movement and a prime mover behind the state's draconian anti-immigration law, passed in 2010, which is now under challenge in the federal courts. "If being recalled is the price of keeping one's promises, then so be it," Mr Russell said after being defeated by Jerry Lewis, a more moderate Republican.

But it was not all bad news for Republicans. In Virginia, the party seemed to be on the verge of taking complete control of the state legislature – not good news for Mr Obama. Virginia is another swing state, which in 2008 was carried by the Democrats for the first time since Lyndon Johnson was running for President in 1964.

And although Republicans lost on the labour law issue, they won another referendum in Ohio declaring parts of President Obama's 2010 health care law unconstitutional; the issue will now almost certainly have to be resolved by the US Supreme Court.

Nor, surprisingly, was it a bad night for incumbents, despite the virulently anti-Washington mood among the electorate. In Kentucky, Steve Beshear, the Democratic governor, was comfortably re-elected, as were sitting mayors in many big cities including Philadelphia, Baltimore and Indianapolis.

Bad night for the GOP

Ohio Voters threw out a measure that would have limited unions collective bargaining rights. But they also declare parts of Obama's healthcare law unconstitutional.

Mississippi Proposal that would have granted "personhood" to a foetus from fertilisation is defeated.

Arizona Tea Party favourite State Senator Russell Pearce is thrown out of office after a recall election.

Virginia Republicans did make progress towards taking full control of the state legislature in this swing state.