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American voters push back against Republican game plan

A group of fire fighters urge passing motorists to vote no on Issue Two in Tuesday's election, Monday, Nov. 7, 2011, in Cincinnati, near a hotel where Ohio Gov. John Kasich spoke in support of the issue.

Al Behrman/AP/Al Behrman/AP

American voters delivered a stern warning to Republicans in Tuesday's state elections, one that should hearten moderates: If you overreach, we will punish you.

The anti-union, anti-abortion and anti-immigration agenda that Republicans have pushed since making historic gains in state elections since 2009 experienced setback after setback in ballot initiatives held in several states on Tuesday.

Democrats across the country see Tuesday's results as a sign of a voter pushback against the Republican agenda that could benefit President Barack Obama as he seeks re-election in 2012.

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The most significant blow to the GOP game plan came in Ohio where voters opted to repeal Republican Governor John Kasich's sweeping new labour law that all but eliminates collective bargaining in the public sector.

Mr. Kasich had sold the law as part of an economic reform plan designed to balance Ohio's budget and make the state more competitive. But voters sided with the union movement, which plowed $30-million into the referendum on the law and mobilized volunteers from across the country in a grassroots campaign.

In the end, Ohioans voted 61 per cent to 39 per cent to repeal the measure.

"They might have said it was too much, too soon," Mr. Kasich conceded.

Unlike a similar bill in Wisconsin, the Ohio law did not exempt police officers and firefighters from the limits on collective bargaining. That mobilized two largely Republican constituencies against the Kasich measure.

Meanwhile, in Mississippi, one of the most conservative states in the country, voters rejected a proposed amendment to the state constitution that would have effectively criminalized abortion.

The so-called "personhood" amendment would have defined life "to include every human being from the moment of fertilization, cloning or the functional equivalent thereof." Had it passed, the measure would have made all abortions in the state illegal, banned the morning-after pill and made in-vitro fertilization a potential crime.

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The growing U.S. Personhood movement had hoped a victory in Mississippi would build momentum for similar initiatives in other states.

In Arizona, the godfather of the state's harsh crackdown on illegal immigrants, was on the verge of losing his job as voters in State Senate president Russell Pearce's district appeared poised to back a recall effort to oust him.

Mr. Pearce is the chief sponsor of SB 1070, the 2010 law that requires state law enforcement authorities to verify the immigration status of people they suspect of being in the country illegally. The law has yet to fully take effect. Lower courts have ruled parts of it unconstitutional since immigration is a federal responsibility in the United States.

Still, Mr. Pearce is considered a hero among U.S. proponents of a crack down on illegal immigration and SB 1070 has sparked the passage or introduction of similar laws in several states.

Although Mr. Pearce all but conceded defeat on Tuesday night , the final results of the recall vote will not be known until early and provisional ballots are counted in coming days.

The news on Tuesday night was not all good for Mr. Obama. Voters in Ohio chose by a margin of 2-to-1 to pass an amendment to the state constitution that would frustrate implementation of the President's health-care reforms by making it illegal to force someone to carry health insurance.

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Mr. Obama's law includes a so-called "individual mandate" that requires Americans, subject to fines, to purchase health insurance on their own if they are not covered by their employer. Low-income earners would receive federal subsidies to buy insurance.

U.S. conservatives have argued that the mandate violates individual freedom, and most Americans tend to agree with them. The Ohio amendment is a (mostly symbolic) snub to the President that suggests he, too, could be sanctioned by voters next year for over-reaching.

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About the Author

Columnist Konrad Yakabuski writes on politics, policy and business for The Globe and Mail’s Comment section and Report on Business. More

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