Kentucky's Democratic governor won another term Tuesday, and Mississippi voters kept their governor's office in GOP hands — decisions that suggested many Americans are not ready to abandon incumbent parties, despite the nation's economic woes.
In Ohio, voters restored the bargaining rights of public employees, and in Mississippi they shot down an initiative to define life as beginning at conception. Supporters of the measure had hoped to use it to mount a legal attack on Roe vs. Wade, the 1973 U.S. Supreme Court decision that established the right to abortion.
Voters' last major judgments of 2011 were closely watched for any hints about the public's political mood just two months ahead of the first presidential primary and nearly four years into the worst economic slowdown since the Depression.
And hundreds of cities held mayoral races, including some of the nation's largest. In San Francisco, interim Mayor Ed Lee could become the city's first elected Asian-American leader. In Philadelphia, Democratic Mayor Michael Nutter easily won re-election.
The governors' races were of keen interest to both parties. Ten states will elect governors next year, and governors can marshal get-out-the-vote efforts crucial to any White House candidate.
In Kentucky, Gov. Steve Beshear was easily re-elected despite high unemployment, budget shortfalls and an onslaught of third-party attack ads. He became the second Democrat to win a governor's race this year, after West Virginia's Early Ray Tomblin.
In Mississippi, voters picked a new governor to succeed Haley Barbour, who could not run again because of term limits. Lt. Gov. Phil Bryant kept the governor's mansion in GOP hands. He faced Hattiesburg Mayor Johnny Dupree, the first black major-party nominee for governor in Mississippi.
The Mississippi measure that would define life as beginning at conception failed despite having been given a decent chance of approval. Passage would have been the first victory in the country for the so-called personhood movement, which aims to make abortion all but illegal. Similar attempts have failed in Colorado and are under way elsewhere.