Messages mixed on unions, health care in Ohio vote

Signals unclear for 2012

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Ohio Democrats and labor unions spent much of Wednesday claiming bragging rights over the rejection by voters of a GOP-backed bill curbing union power, but a second vote repudiating the core of President Obama’s health care law showed that things may not be so clear cut heading into 2012.

Midwestern Democrats said they hoped to build on the union vote - and a second special election in Iowa that kept control of the state Senate in party hands - as part of a full-court press next year across the region, while giving Mr. Obama a big boost in one of the nation’s foremost swing states.

Vice President Joseph R. Biden hailed the result, saying, “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.”

And Democrats in Wisconsin said the Ohio result will give momentum to their drive to recall Republican Gov. Scott Walker, who forced through a similar law limiting collective-bargaining rights for public-sector unions in his state.

But the overwhelming rejection of the health care law - by a 2-to-1 margin - demonstrates that Mr. Obama’s signature domestic achievement is also not playing well in the state.

Charles Franklin, a professor of political science at the University of Wisconsin, said the Ohio and Iowa results should not be seen as heralding a new era of power for Midwest Democrats.

“There was certainly some pulling back from the strong Republican wins of 2010 last night,” Mr. Franklin said of the political landscape. “However, I think it was not necessarily an embrace of Democrats either. In Ohio, [the health care question] won a larger majority than the union Issue 2. Issue 3 was widely seen as a rejection of Obama’s health care reform, especially the individual mandate” to purchase health insurance.

“Overall, I would say voters rejected policies that they thought went too far from both parties,” said Mr. Franklin.

Ohio Democrats appeared in no mood to compromise Wednesday, saying Republican Gov. John Kasich has been politically wounded by the referendum repudiation.

“We intend to harness that activism and carry it into next year,” said Seth Bringman, communications director for the Ohio Democratic Party. “This victory is big for our party and our activists.”

But Ohio GOP spokesman Chris Maloney countered that the vote could backfire, as strapped municipalities and school districts in Ohio will have to resort to layoffs or tax increases to balance their budgets because the labor law has been repealed. The state’s poor economics will weigh heavily on voters’ minds as they cast ballots in the year ahead, he predicted.

“The alternative here is an unsustainable status quo,” he said of the pushback on the collective-bargaining law. “Gov. Kasich has rolled out a jobs agenda when he came into office, and he’s already saved more than 40,000 jobs in Ohio. He’s not doing this because it’s good politics. He’s doing it for what the state needs.”

A new poll released Wednesday suggested Mr. Obama, whose popularity slumped after he carried Ohio in 2008, has seen a rebound in the state during the recent campaign.

The new Public Policy Polling (PPP) survey conducted just before Tuesday’s vote found Mr. Obama ahead of GOP presidential race front-runner Mitt Romney by 50 percent to 41 percent, a marked change from an October poll that found the two men tied. Mr. Obama enjoys even bigger leads against other GOP contenders.

“The electorate next year probably won’t be as friendly to Democrats as the one that showed in Ohio yesterday,” PPP pollster Dean Debnam said in a statement. “But after a tough 2010 there, it looks like the party is re-energized and ready to come back out for Barack Obama in 2012.”

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