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What To Watch For This Election Day


This is WEEKEND EDITION from NPR News. I'm Audie Cornish. A political update now, but not about the 2012 presidential race. This Tuesday is election day in some places around the country, so we've invited in NPR's political junkie Ken Rudin to fill us in on who and what's on the ballot, and what the results may say about 2012. Good morning, Ken.


CORNISH: So let's start with the two races for governor. Where are they, and what do we need to know about them?

RUDIN: Well, they're in Mississippi and Kentucky, and one thing they have in common is that President Obama is very unpopular in both states. And of course if the presidential election were held today, and it's not because I'd be, you know, doing other things other than being on your show, but if the presidential election were being held today, obviously the Republicans would carry overwhelmingly Kentucky and Mississippi.

CORNISH: Although Obama tried to make inroads in Mississippi I remember in the last election.

RUDIN: Yes. And the African-American vote in Mississippi is huge. As a matter of fact, for the first time in state history, a major party nominee for governor of Mississippi is African-American. Johnny Dupree, he's the mayor of Hattiesburg, he's the Democratic nominee. So of course that's great news for history, but reality is that Mississippi is a Republican state, so the Republicans are likely to keep that.

But in Kentucky, which is also a pretty conservative state, Steve Beshear is the governor running for a second term. Only once since 1967 has a Republican won the governorship of Kentucky, and it's not going to happen this year. Beshear wins reelection pretty handily even though unemployment is high, a lot of jobs have been cut. A lot of the promises that Beshear made four years ago haven't been actualized, and yet, Beshear and the Democrats remain popular in the state.

CORNISH: So Ken, I mean, if it seems like the status quo with those gubernatorial races, then what is the message we should be looking for out of Tuesday?

RUDIN: Well, the big story - I think the big election story is what's going on in Ohio. It's Senate Bill Five, which on the ballot is issue two. This is a bill that the Republican Governor John Kasich, and the Republican Legislature put through that basically severely limits collective bargaining rights for public employees, And a lot of people are thinking that maybe the Republicans overreached because it has awakened a sleeping labor giant. Organized labor has pumped like 30 million dollars into defeating this measure, and again, if the Republicans had a big victory in 2010, talking about cutting taxes, cutting government, cutting spending, the Democrats could say if this measure goes down to defeat that the political obituary for organized labor is premature and Democrats and labor movement are back for 2012.

CORNISH: And it's interesting because in that part of the country, obviously, there was a lot of protests and outcry, not just Ohio, I remember in Michigan as well. I mean, it seems that this is labor making a show about whether it really is going to have any power in 2012.

RUDIN: Yeah, absolutely. And we see coming up in Wisconsin very soon there's going to be attempted recall of the Republican Governor Scott Walker there, and organized labor is behind that as well.

CORNISH: Is there anything else controversial on Tuesday's ballot?

RUDIN: Well, there is something called a personhood amendment, and this is in the state of Mississippi, and basically, this is a measure that - it's a statewide referendum that would equate an embryo with a human life. So in other words, if you're destroying an embryo, you're committing murder, and not only would it end all abortion in Mississippi; rape or incest or any other reason, but it also could affect certain birth control measures. Like the morning after pill might be outlawed because of this bill.

So this is pretty strong - what's interesting, both gubernatorial candidates in Mississippi, Democrat and Republican support this.

CORNISH: So on Wednesday morning should we expect to see lots of spinning kind of emails from Republicans or Democrats saying these elections mean this or these elections mean that for 2012?

RUDIN: You will get that. I mean, for example, the Republicans need two seats in the Virginia State Senate to take control there. They need one seat in the Iowa State Senate to take control there. Republicans could very well win the State Senates in both those states. Republicans will have something to crow about on Wednesday, but at the same time, if the unions and the Democrats defeat question number two in Ohio, the collective bargaining issue, the Democrats will have something to crow about again for 2012.

CORNISH: All right, Ken. Well, thanks for giving us the lowdown.

RUDIN: Thanks, Audie.

CORNISH: Ken Rudin writes the weekly Political Junkie column which can be found at npr.org/junkie. His new column appears Monday morning. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.