Democrats' Race to the Left Pushing Key Swing State Ohio Firmly Toward Trump


Chris Gagin says he hasn’t changed much politically, even as so much around him has.

The attorney from rural Belmont County, Ohio, became a Republican in 2013 after Democrats embraced environmental policies that he believed were detrimental to the area’s coal mining and fracking industries. As a pro-life, pro-Second Amendment conservative, he felt unwelcome.

“Conservative Democrats have become all but extinct,” said Gagin, who served for a time as county Republican chairman. He’s among many former Democrats in blue-collar Ohio who voted for Donald Trump in 2016 and for an all-GOP statewide ticket last year. Those ballots helped turn large swaths of territory along the Ohio River — places that supported Democrats Bill Clinton and Barack Obama — from blue to bright red.

As Democrats bring their next primary debate to Ohio on Tuesday, they’re grappling with whether the new Republican dominance in those industrial and rural pockets has pushed Ohio out of their reach.

Some Democratic presidential campaigns are contemplating once unheard-of White House victory scenarios that leave out Ohio. The storied swing state — a place that sided with the winning presidential candidate in all but one election since 1944 — seems likely to be eclipsed by Wisconsin, Michigan and Pennsylvania in next year’s election.

Judge Goes Off on Fani Willis' Assistant DA During Shouting Match: 'I Am Not Gonna Tolerate This Any Further'

“Ohio isn’t at the center of the political universe as it used to be,” said Kyle Kondik, an elections analyst at the University of Virginia Center for Politics.

At this same time during the last presidential campaign, in October 2015, presidential campaigning in Ohio was so vigorous there were fears it was drowning out that year’s elections. A group concerned about one of that year’s ballot issues, the American Policy Roundtable, even bought an online ad reminding voters the presidential election was still a year away. The run-up to the 2020 election has been quieter, with Ohio seeing only a handful of notable campaign events since spring.

Trump won Ohio in 2016 by 8 percentage points — a larger margin than any winner since George H.W. Bush in 1988. While Democrats surged in many other swing states in 2018, they lost every statewide race in Ohio but one.

Democratic presidential candidates will debate Tuesday in Westerville, a suburb outside Columbus replete with the college-educated women and young voters who Democrats see as representing the party’s best prospects of an Ohio comeback, along with minorities.

Do you think Ohio will go red in 2020?

“I think it’s totally winnable,” said Democratic political consultant Aaron Pickrell, an Ohio campaign director and adviser to Obama’s successful 2008 and 2012 campaigns. Any victory will depend on finding the right balance of supporters in urban, suburban, rural and former industrial communities, he said.

Ohio was long a bellwether because its population resembled that of the United States as a whole. It hasn’t picked a losing presidential candidate since voting for Richard Nixon in 1960. But the state no longer mirrors the nation.

It’s whiter and slightly older than the national average. Just 29 percent of Ohio residents have a college degree, compared with the national average of nearly 32.6 percent. That education gap has translated into lower earnings. The state’s median household income is $56,111, nearly $6,000 below the national median.

Republicans run stronger with those groups. The GOP tilt is even more pronounced in places like Belmont County, which sits on the state line with Pennsylvania and West Virginia.

Trump took more than two-thirds of the county’s vote in 2016. In 2008, Republican John McCain lost narrowly to Obama.

NPR Editor Reveals Why Station Ignored Hunter Biden Laptop Story - 'The Laptop Was Newsworthy'

Republican consultant Karl Rove, who engineered President George W. Bush’s two wins in Ohio, said the numbers don’t tell the whole story.

“I’m not one of these people who believes demographics is necessarily destiny, so I do think it has to do with things other than that it’s a blue-collar, white state,” he said. “Maybe it has to do with the quality of the arguments being made rather than simple demographics.”

Democrats have pointed to the type of Republicans Ohio elects to state office as a sign of hope.

The state’s last two Republican governors — John Kasich and now Mike DeWine — have embraced more left-leaning positions on issues including on health care and guns. Kasich is a vocal Trump opponent and DeWine walked a careful line with the president, appearing with him only at the finale of the 2018 campaign.

Democrats also point to consistent statewide victories by Sen. Sherrod Brown, one of his chamber’s most liberal members and the sole Democrat to win statewide last year.

“Ohio is in play,” said Gerald Austin, a Cleveland-based Democratic strategist. “The No. 1 way to beat an incumbent is on the incumbent’s record. Did Donald Trump bring back coal jobs? Have more steel plants opened up here? Did something happen on that infrastructure bill he was going to get done that I’m not aware of? You remind voters of what they said and what they haven’t done.”

Pickrell said Democrats can win those disenfranchised voters by focusing on health care and the economy. He also argued that views on environmental policy may be shifting and climate change is no longer a fringe issue.

“Now people understand the need and utility of solar panels,” he said. “They understand the utility of an electric car. They understand algae blooms in Lake Erie.” Pickrell added: “I don’t think it’s as polarizing as it once was. And in a lot of areas, it’s probably swinging people our way.”

Mandi Merritt, a spokeswoman for the Republican National Committee, said the party is not taking Ohio for granted. She said the GOP is prepared to hit Democrats for radical policy initiatives like universal health care and the Green New Deal. They are too expensive and impractical for Midwestern voters, she said.

“It’s a race to the left, and it’s not going to resonate with everyday Ohioans,” she said.

The Western Journal has reviewed this Associated Press story and may have altered it prior to publication to ensure that it meets our editorial standards.

Truth and Accuracy

Submit a Correction →

We are committed to truth and accuracy in all of our journalism. Read our editorial standards.

, , ,
The Associated Press is an independent, not-for-profit news cooperative headquartered in New York City. Their teams in over 100 countries tell the world’s stories, from breaking news to investigative reporting. They provide content and services to help engage audiences worldwide, working with companies of all types, from broadcasters to brands. Photo credit: @AP on Twitter
The Associated Press was the first private sector organization in the U.S. to operate on a national scale. Over the past 170 years, they have been first to inform the world of many of history's most important moments, from the assassination of Abraham Lincoln and the bombing of Pearl Harbor to the fall of the Shah of Iran and the death of Pope John Paul.

Today, they operate in 263 locations in more than 100 countries relaying breaking news, covering war and conflict and producing enterprise reports that tell the world's stories.
New York City