Democrats Emboldened By Tuesday Elections

NPR's Mara Liasson talks to Guy Raz about Tuesday's elections — and what they might mean for the 2012 campaign. Democrats are feeling emboldened by their wins in Mississippi and Ohio, but there's still no evidence they've reversed the wave of 2010.

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ROBERT SIEGEL, HOST:

This is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED from NPR News. I'm Robert Siegel.

GUY RAZ, HOST:

And I'm Guy Raz. And we begin this hour with a look back at yesterday's election results and what they tell us looking ahead to next year's presidential election. By lopsided margins, voters projected a measure curbing the bargaining rights of unions in Ohio. They also rejected an anti-abortion ballot measure in Mississippi, both signs of hope for Democrats and a beleaguered President Obama. But there was good news for Republicans as well, as they increased their control over state houses across the South.

Joining us now is NPR's national political correspondent Mara Liasson. And, Mara, let's start with those signs of hope for Democrats.

MARA LIASSON, BYLINE: Well, there were several elections that gave Democrats some hope yesterday. In Ohio, as you mentioned, a ballot initiative that would have curtailed the bargaining rights of public sector unions lost big. That fight really brought unions back to life in Ohio and it showed that the Democratic base has a pulse. Democrats are not as apathetic as they were supposed to be. In Mississippi, an initiative that would have given a fertilized egg the rights of personhood also lost. In Maine, an initiative that would have done away with same-day registration or voting day registration lost.

And in Arizona, the state legislator, Russell Pearce, who is the leader of that anti-immigration movement in that state, the author of the state's anti-immigration law, he lost in a recall election. He was defeated by another Republican.

RAZ: So good news for Democrats, Mara. But as we said, Republicans can claim some victories, too.

LIASSON: They certainly can. In Ohio, there was a health care initiative, it was a symbolic vote against President Obama's health care law. The Virginia legislature looks like it will be under total Republican control. That shows you how hard that state is going to be for the president to win again in 2012. And in a perverse way, the Mississippi defeat for the personhood amendment is a victory for at least one Republican, Mitt Romney. It didn't happen. That means he won't be pressed to say yes or no, whether he was for it or against it.

RAZ: This is the midpoint now between the GOP wave in 2010 and, of course, next year's presidential contest. What do yesterday's results tell us about voter's moods?

LIASSON: Well, voters are angry. I don't think you could say that yesterday was a repudiation of Republicans, but it looks like voters are interested in a correction. Certainly, you could say that the new Republican governors in the Midwest overreacted and it also looks like they did what a lot of parties do when they come into power. They over-read their mandate and they went too far and voters pulled them back.

RAZ: So the big question, Mara, of course, is do yesterday's results point to a swing back in favor of Democrats or something else entirely?

LIASSON: Well, it's hard to take the results from yesterday and draw a straight line to 2012, but I do think it will feed into the big debate that we're having about whether 2012 is going to be another pendulum swinging wave like 2006 and 2008 was for the Democrats and 2010 was back to the Republicans. Or are we going to go back to the kind of broken field squeaker elections like we had in 2000 or 2004, mobilization elections? Republicans say they're very confident this is going to be a continuation of the wave of 2010.

And it is true that President Obama is still a big drag for Democrats. He's a big motivator for Republican turnout, but House Republicans and those new Republican governors who are perceived to have overreached are also a motivator for Democratic turnout. President Obama might have 9 percent unemployment to face, but Republicans in Congress also have a number 9 to deal with. They very recently had a 9 percent approval rating, which is almost unheard of. So the playing field is still tilted to the Republicans, but last night gives Democrats hope that they won't have to face a second tsunami election in a row.

RAZ: Mara, thanks.

LIASSON: Thank you, Guy.

RAZ: That's NPR's national political correspondent, Mara Liasson.

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