Is Ohio now more reflective or less reflective of America in general? That is the big question to be decided in 2020. According to strategists on both sides, it could be demographics or it could be ideological. Guess which side blames demographics.
Ohio is now considered less a swing state, on one hand, because it no longer reflects the demographics of the country at large. It is whiter and slightly older than the national average. Just 29% of Ohio residents have a college degree which is also below the national average. The median household income is about $6,000 below the national average.
These demographics have led some Democrats to think the unimaginable- write off Ohio come 2020. To be sure, Ohio was the bell weather state in presidential elections and had not voted for a losing candidate since they threw their votes to Richard Nixon in 1960.
At this time in 2015, presidential candidates were all over Ohio. They were so all over Ohio that politicians were warning voters to worry about the 2015 elections before getting ahead of themselves over 2016. The run-up to 2020 has been considerably more quiet with only a handful of events by anyone.
Instead, some Democrats are now considering writing off Ohio as a possible electoral pick-up come 2020. The most prominent Democrat PAC- Priorities USA- has lumped Ohio in with Iowa and Texas as second-tier goals and is now concentrating on states like Georgia and Arizona. National Republicans are telling the Trump reelection campaign not to sink too many resources into Ohio while Democrats are saying there are better places to focus their financial resources.
Yet, the Trump campaign is not taking anything for granted. His campaign has heavily invested in digital advertisements and Ohio ranks fourth among all states in this category for Trump. His campaign has said that Trump will make campaign stops in Ohio. In short, Trump is not taking Ohio for granted, unlike his 2016 rival- Hillary Clinton- did in Wisconsin and Michigan.
While the GOP was taking a beating nationally in the 2018 midterms, such was not the case in Ohio. Jane Timken, the state party chair, leveraged Trump’s popularity in the state to reach 5 million voters. As a result, the Democrats failed to flip a single House seat. The reason, Timken surmises, is ideological, not demographics:
We care about things like football on Friday nights, going out to restaurants once in a while, going to church on Sunday. The messaging that we’re getting from the Democrats, quite frankly, is so far away from the priorities of the average Ohio voter.
Then speaking directly about Trump, she said: “They may not love the President but he’s delivering for them. It’s a binary choice.”
Of course, the Democrats disagree. Although Trump won by 8 points in 2016- a landslide by Ohio standards- state party chair David Pepper claims that by keeping Ohio in play, it helps drain Trump’s resources. He points to polls that show eroding support for Trump among women. In 2016, Trump carried 46% of the female vote, more than half the Ohio electorate.
Pepper also points to Democrat gains in the wealthier suburbs of the state. He cites ever-growing Democrat vote totals, but although Democrat voter turnout is there, it has resulted in nothing but defeats.
To many observers, the two seminal years were 2004 and 2013. In 2004, after Bush’s reelection effort in Ohio, the GOP maintained a strong ground presence that is now being copied by Democrats in other states like Florida. They (the GOP in Ohio) did not dismantle the infrastructure after Bush’s victory, but sunk resources into more training, GOTV efforts, and recruitment of candidates at all levels.
The year 2013 is important because that is when the Obama administration adopted environmental policies that many saw as detrimental to the state’s fracking and coal industries, and industry in general. Many Democrats came to dislike the pro-choice/anti-gun message of the party. They became homeless in their own party and they turned to Trump. In all these key areas, Trump has not been a letdown. Areas that were once Democrat bastions along the Ohio River suddenly became bright red.
While there have been some letdowns, at the end of the day it boils down to economics. As one strategist said: “Trump is both policy and theater. And the policies, for the most part, especially domestically, have been very widely appreciated.”
Nothing exemplifies things in Ohio for the Democrats more than the case of Chris Gibbs. Gibbs is a farmer who voted for Trump in 2016 but has now soured on the President. Specifically, Gibbs has been touting his line on outlets like CNBC and MSNBC as a voice of people souring on Trump. Gibbs has announced his intention to challenge Rep. Jim Jordan in the 2020 election since Jordan is one of Trump’s most vociferous proponents in the House, especially when it comes to impeachment.
The problem for the Democrats? Gibbs would run as an independent if he decides to run at all.