COLUMBUS — Buoyed by voters’ overwhelming rejection of a Republican-backed union law, Ohio Democrats are looking to capitalize on support from labor groups that have traditionally favored GOP candidates as their focus shifts to next year’s races and efforts to repeal early voting changes and throw out a new congressional map.
Voters on Tuesday handily rejected a state’s law limiting the bargaining abilities of more than 350,000 teachers, firefighters, police officers and other public workers. More than 61 percent voted against the measure, known as Senate Bill 5 in the Legislature and Issue 2 on the ballot.
Ohio Democratic Party chairman Chris Redfern told reporters Wednesday the party wants to cultivate the relationships it has built with independent and Republican voters who joined with Democrats to reject the union law.
“Senate Bill 5 is dead,” Redfern said. “The groundswell of activism it generated lives on and will carry over into the 2012 cycle.”
If Democrats are able to maintain those relationships, it could boost their efforts to get Ohio voters next year to overturn a Republican-pushed law to shorten the state’s early voting window and reject the GOP’s newly drawn map of congressional districts.
One Democratic congresswoman said Wednesday she wasn’t certain whether labor’s victory would necessarily give her party an edge in 2012.
“Quite frankly, I’m not so sure that one has anything to do with the other,” U.S. Rep. Marcia Fudge, a Cleveland Democrat, said in an interview. “Issue 2 was something that all working people in Ohio could coalesce around, no matter their party.”
Still, she said she hopes it bodes well for Democrats “because I think the coalition that was built around Issue 2 is very strong.”
Mark Sanders, president of the Ohio Association of Professional Fire Fighters, said the union membership is evenly split between Democrats and Republicans, “with a big slice of independents down the middle.”
He said the campaign to defeat the union law galvanized members around the importance of collective bargaining rights, and sparked support for candidates of both parties who opposed the bill.
But whether GOP firefighters have been soured on the party overall is unclear, Sanders said.
“It’s no secret that we had a lot of members who voted for Gov. (John) Kasich, and I had it told to me time and time again, ‘This was not my Republican party, this was not my Republican values,’” he said. “I think Issue 2 put just a little extra exclamation point on those values, and moving forward created a re-focus to look at each individual candidate a little more closely on the issues.”
Jay McDonald, president of the Ohio Fraternal Order of Police, said he hasn’t discussed whether his group would continue to work with more Democratic-leaning unions on future ballot issues.
Republicans have downplayed any potential carry-over effect from this November’s contest into next. They point to strong approval for another Ohio ballot issue in which voters rejected the health insurance mandate in President Barack Obama’s health care overhaul.
The health care ballot question was won by a wider statewide margin than the defeat of the collective bargaining law.
Jeff Longstreth, campaign manager for Ohioans for Healthcare Freedom, said he saw Tuesday’s results as anything but a mandate for Democrats.
“It really sets up the 2012 election. Here you have the No. 1 swing state in the country, about to vote for president and (Democratic) U.S. Sen. Sherrod Brown, and they vote against the president’s signature policy initiative,” he said.