Small races could have big 2012 impact

Local elections Tuesday in two important 2012 swing states could have a major impact on President Obama’s reelection efforts.

In Ohio, a bellwether presidential state, Democrats and unions are pushing hard for a ballot proposition to repeal a union-organizing law.
 
They’re expressing confidence they’ll be successful but the biggest victory out of that effort could be in 2012 if Obama benefits from the get-out-the-vote groundwork being laid for Tuesday’s race.
 

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In Virginia, control of the state Senate is at stake. Democrats face an uphill battle to keep that chamber and strategists worry Obama’s low poll numbers in the state, which he carried in 2008, could hurt their efforts. A loss there would not bode well heading into the presidential year.
 
Also on the ballot:  a primary for disgraced former Rep. David Wu’s (D-Ore.) seat and a controversial anti-abortion measure in Mississippi.
 

Ohio collective bargaining referendum
 
Democrats and unions have invested heavily to repeal a state law that stripped public employees — including teachers and firefighters — of their ability to unionize. Polling has shown them to be comfortably in the lead, and while referenda are traditionally difficult to poll accurately, Republicans don’t expect to win this battle.
 
And this early organizing effort by unions could lay the groundwork for Obama’s reelection campaign — including generating voter enthusiasm and aiding get-out-the-vote efforts.
 
Chris Jankowski, the head of the Republican State Leadership Committee, predicted the law would be repealed, describing the referendum as an “uphill fight” for his side. He said Gov. John Kasich’s (R) sagging popularity has hurt Republicans’ efforts there, and that the GOP had a “messaging problem” on the issue.
 
Unions have made the referendum a high priority, spending millions on the issue, and AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka is in Ohio, suggesting it’s a high priority.
 
If the bill is repealed by a wide margin, it suggests Democrats have the momentum in some states where Republicans are seen to have overreached after taking control of the governor’s mansion in 2010. Wisconsin and Florida are similar cases, argue Democrats.
 

Virginia Senate
 
Democrats have a four-seat edge in control of Virginia’s state Senate and got to redraw the congressional lines to their liking under a bipartisan compromise on the redistricting process. But they are defending eight seats to Republicans’ two, and have been badly outspent by the GOP and affiliated groups, with total spending in the state topping $30 million.
 
Republicans are benefitting from the popularity of Gov. Bob McDonnell (R), who is approved of by approximately two-thirds of voters in most polls. Democrats, meanwhile, are struggling to find separation between themselves and Obama, whose approval rating hovers slightly below 50 percent in the state and who is very unpopular in some of the more rural, southern portions.
 
“Holding the Senate would be a huge deal for us, it’d be a definite accomplishment,” admitted one Democratic strategist working on the races. When asked whether Obama’s standing had made it harder for Democrats, that source said it was “not an unfair conclusion to draw.”
 
That should be a worrisome sign for Obama in a swing state he won by seven percentage points last election.
 
The election’s results will also directly impact control of Congress. The state has not yet passed its congressional redistricting map, and Republicans have fought for an incumbent-protection plan that would give them an 8-3 edge in the state’s delegation. If Democrats lose the state senate they will also lose their ability to block that map.
 

Race to replace Wu

In Oregon, voters will choose the Republican and Democratic candidates in a special House election to replace Wu, but there aren't expected to be any surprises.
 
On the Democratic side, state Sen. Suzanne Bonamici has been heralded by national Democratic groups and benefited from the support of EMILY's List, a PAC that supports Democratic women who favor abortion rights. Bonamici took 37 percent of likely Democratic voters in a poll released Oct. 27 by The Oregonian and KGW-TV. Her nearest competitor, state Labor Commissioner Brad Akavian, took 11 percent.
 
The front-runner in the Republican race, Rob Cornilles, also holds a commanding lead over his primary opponents, according to a SurveyUSA/KATU poll released Oct. 20. But in the final weeks before the primary, Cornilles got into a tiff with Rep. Earl Blumenauer (D-Ore.), whose Portland-area district neighbors the one Cornilles is seeking, over a television ad Cornilles aired that looked remarkably similar to one Blumenauer aired in 1996.
 
This is the second consecutive bid for the seat for Cornilles. The district is considered safe Democratic territory, even though Wu won by just seven percentage points in 2010 after early details of erratic behavior emerged.
 

Mississippi abortion ballot initiative
 
Anti-abortion rights groups in Mississippi are pushing for a state constitutional amendment that would redefine “personhood” as a fertilized egg, which would make abortion illegal even in cases of rape, incest and when the mother’s life is at risk. It would also reclassify abortion as murder and ban certain types of contraceptives.
 
The law would be the most restrictive anti-abortion law in the nation and will all but certainly face legal challenges if it passes.
 


The initiative has already become an issue on the presidential trail. Republican candidate Mitt Romney said on Mike Huckabee’s television show that he “absolutely” supports the proposition, leading the Democratic National Committee to fire back with a hard-hitting web video and a series of press releases.
 
Romney has come under fire for his previous stances on abortion rights, and his support of this bill is a big shift from his earlier views.
 
Mississippi Gov. Haley Barbour (R), who is an abortion-rights opponent, voted for the initiative but said he has “some concerns” about the unforeseen ramifications of the legislation that “gave [him] pause” about voting for it.
 
Jon Huntsman opposed the bill while touting his anti-abortion bona fides. "I think it goes too far," Huntsman said on NBC's "Meet The Pres” last weekend. "I mean, I'm pro-life and always have been. I have two little adopted girls to prove the point. But I think life begins at conception. And I, you know, have certain caveats or exclusions in the case of rape, incest, and life of the mother. But I've always been pro-life and proud of my record."
 
The organization that put this bill on the ballot is pushing to have it voted on in Florida, Montana, and Ohio, all states with major federal races next year, meaning the issue is unlikely to go away any time soon.
 
-- Josh Lederman contributed