Voters turned a skeptical eye toward conservative-backed measures across the country Tuesday, rejecting an anti-labor law in Ohio, an anti-abortion measure in Mississippi and a crackdown on voting rights in Maine.
Even in Arizona, voters were close to turning out of office the chief architect of that state’s controversial anti-immigration law. State Senator Russell Pearce, a Republican power broker and a former sheriff’s deputy known for his uncompromising style, came close to conceding the race Tuesday with a look of shock on his face.
“If being recalled is the price for keeping one’s promises, then so be it,” he said. His opponent had declared victory. Mr. Pearce, the president of the Senate, was a hero to the Tea Party movement, and apart from his anti-immigration efforts, he had introduced numerous bills to nullify federal laws.
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Taken together, Tuesday’s results could breathe new life into President Obama’s hopes for his re-election a year from now. But the day was not a wholesale victory for Democrats. Even as voters in Ohio delivered a blow to Gov. John R. Kasich, a Republican, and rejected his attempt to weaken collective bargaining for public employees, they approved a symbolic measure to exempt Ohio residents from the individual mandate required in Mr. Obama’s health care law.
And while voters in Mississippi, one of the most conservative states, turned away a measure that would have outlawed all abortions and many forms of contraception and had drawn conservative support from members of both parties, they tightened their voting laws to require some from of government-approved identification. Democrats had opposed the requirement, saying it was a thinly disguised attempt to intimidate voters of color.
In Maine, where Republicans recently had ended same-day registration at polling places, voters decided to restore the practice, which Democrats support.
Despite the anger at Washington, voters did not appear to be in a throw-the-bums-out frame of mind at the city and state levels. In Philadelphia, Mayor Michael Nutter, a Democrat, won re-election, as did Mayor Greg Ballard, a Republican, in Indianapolis and Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake, a Democrat, in Baltimore. In Phoenix, Greg Stanton, a Democrat, was the winner while in San Francisco, Edwin M. Lee, the interim mayor, seemed poised to become that city’s first mayor of Chinese descent.
Steve Beshear, the Democratic governor of Kentucky, was re-elected. In Mississippi, Phil Bryant will succeed Gov. Haley Barbour, a fellow Republican, who was prevented by term limits from running for reelection.
And in something of a surprise, an attempt by Republicans in Virginia to take over the state Senate — and thereby take complete control of the state government — appeared stalled. In one district, the final vote showed the Republican candidate with an edge of fewer than 100 votes, putting the party within striking distance of a 20-20 tie with Democrats in the Senate. When the Senate is deadlocked, the lieutenant governor — a Republican — casts the tie-breaking vote.
But in Iowa, Republicans failed in their attempt to win control of the State Senate. Had they won a special election there, they would have likely been able to pass numerous measures, including a ban on same-sex marriage, that had been blocked by Democrats.
In one of the biggest surprises of the night was Mississippi’s rejection of a far-reaching and stringent anti-abortion initiative known as the “personhood” amendment, which had inspired a ferocious national debate.
Initiative 26 would have amended the state Constitution to define life “to include every human being from the moment of fertilization, cloning or the functional equivalent thereof.”
Supporters, including evangelical Christians, said it would have stopped the murder of innocent life and sent a clarion moral call to the world. They said they expected that passage in Mississippi would have built support for similar laws in other states.
Opponents, led by Planned Parenthood and the American Civil Liberties Union, said the proposal would have outlawed all abortions, including in cases of rape and incest and when the mother’s life was in danger; would have barred morning-after pills and certain contraception such as IUD’s; and could have limited in vitro fertility procedures.
“The message from Mississippi is clear,” Nancy Keenan, president of NARAL Pro-Choice America, said in a statement. “An amendment that allows politicians to further interfere in our personal, private medical decisions, including a woman’s right to choose safe, legal abortion, is unacceptable.”
The push for a personhood amendment split the country’s anti-abortion movement. Traditional leaders including the Roman Catholic bishops and National Right to Life opposed it on strategic grounds, fearing it would lead to a United States Supreme Court defeat and set back to their efforts to chip away at abortion rights.
Governor Barbour is a strong opponent of abortion rights but expressed skepticism about the amendment’s wording
“It’s unnecessarily ambiguous,” he told MSNBC on Tuesday. He also criticized the strategy of sending it to voters rather than to the Legislature — a blunder he attributed to people in Colorado, who wrote the measure — and said it would not be a good test case with which to try to overturn Roe v. Wade, the 1973 Supreme Court decision that legalized abortion. Nonetheless, Mr. Barbour said, he had supported the measure because he believes that life begins at conception.
Theo Emery, Erik Eckholm and Kirk Johnson contributed reporting.
This article has been revised to reflect the following correction:
Correction: November 9, 2011
An earlier version of this article mistakenly said there were governor’s races in Louisiana and West Virginia; there were not.