Some big conservative initiatives went down to public vote last night as off-year elections gave hope to liberal causes heading into 2012.

A proposed amendment that would have given legal status to fertilized eggs (essentially banning abortion, and possibly many forms of birth control) in Mississippi was easily defeated by voters. Meanwhile, in Ohio, voters overwhelming supported the repeal of a law meant to restrict collective bargaining for public workers. The vote was a huge blow to Governor John Kascich who made the fight against unions a key plank in his agenda.

Combine that with the defeat of a voter registration law in Maine and the (apparent) recall of Arizona state legislator Russell Pearce, architect of that state's controversial anti-immigration policy, and there's already a lot of handwringing today about the fortunes of Republicans and their policies over the next 12 months. The Ohio case in particular, had ensnared several of the GOP presidential candidates in its web, as they were expected to stand up (or not) for the Governor's plan.

Incumbents mostly held on to their seats at the local levels, but that also means a push by Republicans to seize control of state legislatures in Virginia and Iowa may have come up short.

It's always a dicey proposition to pin larger nationwide trends on sparsely attended off-year votes, but Tuesday's results were a big win for Democrats and a beacon hope for President Barack Obama's re-election chances. It has to be encouraging to see a key battleground state for 2012 push back against conservative policies. It may be early, but for now, the winds may have ever so slightly shifted the president's way.