All eyes were on Barack Obama’s historic win in Tuesday’s presidential election , but a number of significant ballot initiatives and gubernatorial races took dramatic turns as well.
A pair of ballot initiatives that would have curtailed abortion were soundly defeated, while bans on gay marriage won or were headed for passage. And voters in 11 states chose governors -- with most incumbents winning reelection.
The most prominent initiative was a measure put on the ballot in South Dakota to outlaw most abortions in hope of triggering a Supreme Court showdown over the landmark 1973 case Roe vs. Wade. Measure 11 lost by a lopsided margin.
It was a revised version of a high-profile proposed abortion ban -- even in cases of rape and incest -- that South Dakota voters had rejected by a 10-point margin in 2006. Proponents hoped that they could secure passage this year by providing exceptions for rape and incest.
But opponents argued the exceptions were still too narrow -- abortions were only permissible if the woman identified her assailant and proved paternity through DNA testing, or if a doctor found the mother faced possible organ failure if the pregnancy came to term.
“South Dakotans have affirmed by their votes tonight that no vague law can account for every individual circumstance. And that is precisely why women and families, not the government, should make these personal healthcare decisions,” said Sarah Stoesz, President and CEO of Planned Parenthood Minnesota, North Dakota, South Dakota.
Proponents vowed to try again to outlaw abortion in the 2010 election. “We’re coming back,” said Leslee Unruh, an anti-abortion activist and prime proponent of the ban. “We’re not going away. . . . Third time’s the charm.”
Another hot-button abortion initiative, Measure 48 in Colorado, was roundly defeated Tuesday night. The initiative would have defined a fertilized egg as a legal human being, which opponents and some proponents said could ban abortion and other activities such as in vitro fertilization and certain forms of birth control.
California’s Proposition 8 overshadowed other gay marriage bans on the ballot in Florida and Arizona, where gay rights activists complained they were having difficulty raising money.
Prop. 8 appeared headed for victory, and in Florida a proposed amendment to the state constitution banning gay marriage was approved.
Arizona voters in 2006 rejected a gay marriage ban, but a similar one was approved Tuesday.
Former University of California Regent Ward Connerly backed initiatives in two states to end affirmative action. The one in Colorado was narrowly losing Tuesday night, but the measure in Nebraska passed.
As the Republican party reeled from defeats in the presidential and congressional races, its operatives stressed that none of its incumbent governors lost a race.
Even in liberal Vermont, Gov Jim Douglas, a Republican and strong fiscal conservative, won.
In Indiana, Republican Gov Mitch Daniels held onto his seat.
The former budget director for President George W. Bush, Daniels resisted the Democratic surge that transformed Indiana into a swing state and handily defeated his challenger, former Rep. Jill L. Thompson.
But there were some reversals for Republicans.
In Missouri, the GOP lost a governorship as Atty. Gen. Jay Nixon won the contest to succeed retiring GOP Gov. Roy Blunt.
In North Carolina, Lt. Gov. Bev Perdue became the state’s first female governor, succeeding termed-out fellow Democrat Mike Easley.
She defeated Charlotte Mayor Pat McCrory.
But the results of perhaps the most contested race were still up in the air Tuesday evening, as Washington Gov. Chris Gregoire fought challenger Dino Rossi in a rematch of their nail-biter of a race in 2004. Democrat Gregoire won by a handful of votes, and some Republicans complained of fraud. This time, Gregoire was narrowly ahead with more than a third of the votes counted.