WASHINGTON - An electoral victory for union rights in Ohio gave Democrats hope Wednesday that President Barack Obama could win the battleground state in 2012, although results from votes nationwide had mixed messages for both parties.
Ohio voters struck down a law supported by Republican Governor John Kasich that limited bargaining rights for police, firefighters and other state workers as a way for local governments to balance their budgets.
The outcome drew swift praise from Democrats, who will seek to use it to energize union voters to support Obama in next year's presidential race.
"Fundamental fairness has prevailed," Vice President Joe Biden said in a statement late Tuesday. "By standing with teachers and firefighters and cops, Ohio has sent a loud and clear message that will be heard all across the country: The middle class will no longer be trampled on."
Biden's response showed how closely Obama's White House was watching the results in Ohio, where the union-limiting law was defeated by about 60 percent to 40 percent.
Ohio, which typically swings between supporting Republicans and Democrats, is a major prize in the presidential election and could determine who wins next year.
Republicans found solace, however, in a separate Ohio vote soundly rejecting a requirement in Obama's signature healthcare reform law that everyone have health insurance.
"There were mixed messages," said Rex Elsass, president of the Ohio-based Strategy Group for Media, a consulting firm that works for Republican candidates. "The commonality ... is when government goes too far in the electorate's mind, they reject it."
NIGHT FOR DEMOCRATS
Mixed messages or not, analysts said the night largely belonged to Democrats.
James Brudney, a law professor at Fordham University, said the Ohio vote should give cautious hope to Democrats about 2012.
"They still have a lot of work to do but this was definitely a positive," he said. "There were a lot of people who still perceive the Republicans as overreaching against the middle class."
The on-the-ground organizing that helped defeat the law also would help in get-out-the vote efforts for next year's election, Brudney said, although the economy remained an issue that Republicans will exploit.
In another closely watched ballot initiative Tuesday, voters in Mississippi rejected a proposed state amendment that would have limited abortions by defining life as beginning with conception.
Mississippi voters also were asked to decide whether human life begins at conception, the so-called "personhood amendment" to their state constitution.
They rejected the amendment, which would have made Mississippi the first U.S. state to define a fertilized egg as a person, a controversial concept aimed at outlawing abortion, some types of birth control and infertility methods that result in the loss of embryos.
Results elsewhere were mixed for both sides. Democrats and Republicans split the two races for governor that were being contested, with Kentucky Democratic Governor Steve Beshear handily winning re-election and Mississippi Lieutenant Governor Phil Bryant victorious in Mississippi.
(Additional reporting by Patricia Zengerle and Mary Wisniewski; Editing by Bill Trott)
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