Unions won a major victory Tuesday night when Ohio voters repealed a Republican-backed law that limited collective bargaining for public sector unions.
With one third of precincts reporting, the pro-repeal votes were leading anti-repeal votes by 62 percent to 38 percent, a large margin.
The law had been the biggest achievement of Ohio Gov. John Kasich (R), whose poll numbers have plummeted since he focused in on the issue. Democrats and unions invested heavily to repeal the law, spending millions on the election and pitting police and firefighters against the governor. Shortly after the Associated Press called the race, they celebrated the results.
"One message rang loud and clear tonight in Ohio and across the country: those who spend their time scapegoating workers and pushing a partisan agenda will only strengthen the resolve of working people," said AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka in a release. "From the very beginning, it’s been clear that Gov. Kasich, and indeed many politicians, were pushing an agenda that was about politics, not about solving our nation’s problems or creating jobs."
Trumka spent the last few days in Ohio, showing both how high a priority the race was to his organization and how confident he was that they would prevail. Turnout was reportedly high in the state.
Democratic Legislative Campaign Committee Executive Director Michael Sargeant echoed those sentiments. "Tonight’s rejection by Ohio voters of Republicans' senseless attacks on unions and working families is only the latest rejection of extreme statehouse GOP policies this year," said Sargeant. "The repeal of SB5 is a monumental victory for working families not only in Ohio, but all across the country... these wins should put Republican lawmakers everywhere on notice: there is a price to pay for right-wing extremism and partisan overreach."
White House press secretary Jay Carney praised the vote. “The president congratulates the people of Ohio for standing up for workers and defeating efforts to strip away collective bargaining rights, and commends the teachers, firefighters, nurses, police officers and other workers who took a stand to defend those rights," said Carney.
Republican Ohio Gov. John Kasich congratulated the pro-repeal forces. "It's clear that the people have spoken. You know my view is when the people speak in a campaign like this, a referendum, you have to listen if you're a public servant," he said shortly after the results were announced.
"I've heard their voices, I understand their decision and frankly I respect what people have to say in an effort like this," added Kasich.
Tea party groups characterized the vote as a setback. "Obama's Democratic machine and the union bosses out hustled and beat us in the referendum on SB 5, the common sense and money saving legislation that the Ohio legislature and governor passed," read a fundraising email from Tea Party Express. "This was a major blow to conservative governance and to breaking the stranglehold that public employee unions have on the state budgets."
The results in this union-heavy swing state are good news for Democrats — Ohio could be the state the presidency hinges on in 2012, as it did in 2004. It could also push President Obama and down-ticket Democrats towards a more populist message in order to try to recreate the energy created around this issue.
This story has been updated.