A Very Good Night for Democrats

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In state elections across the country Tuesday, voters rejected Republican attempts to pursue a far right-wing agenda

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Democrats had a very good election night on Tuesday.

Their cherished causes prevailed, they kept their statehouses, and they saw one of the Tea Party's biggest champions unexpectedly lose a recall election in Arizona.

Though it's easy to read too much into the sparse data points of an off-year election, liberals were jubilant as the returns came rolling in Tuesday night, and the trend, in nearly every contested race across the country, was too obvious to ignore:

* The Republican governor and legislature in Ohio saw their attempt to roll back collective bargaining for public employees soundly repudiated by the state's voters.

* Mississippi's "personhood' initiative, which would have defined a fertilized human egg as a person and created a new front in the abortion wars, went down to defeat by a wide margin, despite leading in pre-election polls.

* Kentucky Gov. Steve Beshear sailed to reelection -- though widely anticipated, his win showed Democrats can still prevail in red states with good candidates and campaign strategy.

* Russell Pearce, Arizona's state Senate president and the author of that state's controversial anti-illegal immigration law, lost a recall election to a Republican challenger who portrayed Pearce as an extremist.

Democrats also hung onto the Iowa state Senate and appeared poised to at least hold the GOP to a tie in the Virginia Senate. As of late Tuesday, Virginia Republicans had gained one seat and led by less than 100 votes in another, but needed to gain three to take over the chamber. And in Maine, voters threw out the legislature's attempt to tighten voting restrictions.

The trend was not absolute. Conservatives were victorious on other ballot issues, including one in Ohio to ban health-care mandates -- a symbolic strike against President Obama's health-care reform -- and one in Mississippi to require photo ID to vote. As expected, Republican Phil Bryant easily won Mississippi's gubernatorial election.

But there was no question that on the most controversial questions, voters seemed to recoil from the GOP's attempts to push further to the right. Pearce, in Arizona, was a case in point: He had proudly declared the state's upper chamber a "tea party Senate" and inspired similar immigration proposals across the country. Yet his heavily Republican district threw him out in favor of a fellow Republican with a more conciliatory stance. 

Similarly, the "personhood" initiative in Mississippi worried not just liberals but some in the pro-life movement, who thought it could hurt the anti-abortion cause by alienating independent voters or tempting a Supreme Court smackdown. And in Ohio, conservative-leaning blue-collar voters took labor's side against Gov. John Kasich's attempt to roll back union protections even for police and firefighters.

Thus, Tuesday's results were more of a rejection of far-right proposals than a signal of approval to Democrats -- a sign that Republicans may have overreached their 2010 mandate and pushed the pendulum in the other direction. 

Image credit: Reuters/Matt Sullivan
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Molly Ball is a staff writer covering national politics at The Atlantic.

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