Off-year elections are often quickly forgotten in the build-up to a coming presidential contest. Still, despite the usual low turnout and lack of national contests, Tuesday's balloting provided important insights into the political parties' strengths and weaknesses heading into the 2012 campaign. What lessons should politicians take to heart? 

1. Voters are angry about "Republican overreach"
Tuesday was a big night for Democrats, says Josh Marshall at Talking Points Memo. The GOP pushed its agenda hard after its landslide win in 2010, and voters on Tuesday decisively rejected "Republican overreach." Ohio voters rebuffed Republican Gov. John Kasich's "signature anti-union legislation" by a 2-to-1 margin. Even more "surprising," conservative Mississippi said "no" to a hardline anti-abortion amendment that was expected to pass, says MSNBC's First Read. And the recall of Arizona Senate President Russell Pearce, the architect of the state's harsh crackdown on illegal immigrants, was "a stunning blow to the Tea Party," says Jeff Biggers at The Huffington Post. "This election shows that such extremist behavior will not be rewarded," says Randy Parraz, a leader of the recall drive.

2. Incumbents may not be doomed, after all
"For all the frustration surrounding the economy," says Chris Sundheim for the Associated Press, "voters refused to throw incumbent parties out of governors' and most big-city mayors' offices." Kentucky Gov. Steve Beshear (D) easily won re-election, and Mississippi Gov. Haley Barbour, forced out by term limits, was replaced with another Republican, suggesting that "Americans were not ready to abandon the parties in power." In the 2010 midterms, voters had a throw-the-bums-out attitude. But in mayoral races in Houston, Philadelphia, Indianapolis, Baltimore, and Charlotte, N.C., says Erin Mulvaney at Reuters, voters "favored the familiar" parties and candidates.

3. Obama has a path to victory, but it is bumpy
"Before Democrats break out the Champagne," says John Avlon at The Daily Beast, they should take a long, hard look at all of the results. Yes, they beat Kasich's anti-union measure, says Allahpundit at Hot Air, but the same Ohio voters managed to "stick a finger in the eye of ObamaCare by banning mandatory enrollment in any state health-care plan." Virginia voters raised red flags, too, says Karen Tumulty at The Washington Post. Obama won the state by seven percentage points in 2008, the first Democrat to win there since 1965. But the Tea Party has energized Republicans. Their Tuesday gains "add more evidence — as if national Democrats needed it — that the terrain of the political map will be significantly more rugged for President Obama next year."