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Where Ohio Democrats Go From Here

Ohio Democratic Party Chairman David Pepper
David Pepper

Democratic Presidential nominee Hillary Clinton’s loss to Republican President-elect Donald Trump wasn’t the only blistering defeat for Ohio’s Democratic Party. The state Legislature, which was already Republican-dominated, became even redder. And Democrats were beat back in a challenge for a U.S. Senate. So where does the state party go from here?

Ohio Democratic Party Chairman David Pepper says Clinton’s loss was devastating.

“What we saw was a tidal wave that was far bigger than Ohio.”

While that tidal wave rolled across the nation, there were ripples in Ohio that suggested a problem for Democrats early on. Pepper says he noticed early that turnout was coming in lower than 2012.

“You win or lose elections in swing states by turnout, and the turnout was low in places that hurt us. And it wasn’t even that high for Donald Trump,” Pepper says.

“I think some of what we saw, and this happens when races are very negative, a lot of people stayed home. And I think maybe the entire negative nature of the campaign, the worst, most negative campaign we’ve ever seen, might have just people from showing up because they were sick of it all.”

But the turnout was just part of the story. Clinton got 63,000 fewer votes in Cuyahoga County than President Obama did in 2012, 10,000 fewer in Franklin County, and 12,000 fewer in Hamilton County. Pepper says the smaller wins weren’t enough to compensate for losses elsewhere.

“You can win Ohio without winning a quarter of the counties, but you can’t win it on just six or seven. You know, the turnout was just down and she lost in swing counties and she didn’t win enough in the big, blue counties. So you add it all up and you just aren’t going to win if that’s the case,” said Pepper.

Clinton lost ten counties that President Obama won in 2012. And in rural Appalachian counties, Clinton’s losses were sometimes staggering. She earned just 30 percent of the vote in Pike County, which Obama lost by one vote in 2012.

The more-urban Montgomery County voted Republican for the first time in 28 years.

The presidential race wasn’t the only bad news for Democrats: The GOP-dominated legislature became even more redder as Republicans took an additional seat in both the House and Senate.

“A Statehouse candidate on a ticket is basically going to sink or swim, unless it’s a close race, with the top of the ticket. And if there’s a wave like this, they can work really, really hard and except for in certain places in the state, it’s just very hard for them to withstand them and I feel very bad for them.”

Pepper says the party will do some soul searching to figure out whether its message or its campaign efforts or both were to blame. Still, he says he sees some good news for Democrats in the future because of this massive Republican win.

“This does shift, in many ways, the environment for 2018. The presumption is usually in the midterm, you do better if you are not in power and I think Sherrod Brown is someone who will stand up against some of Donald Trump’s unattractive ideas. And I think keeping that balance is something Ohioans traditionally want to do. So I actually think we’ve got time to learn from this, fix the turnout operation, to get a better message so that when 2018 comes along, we will be better prepared.”

In the meantime, lawmakers are preparing for the lame duck session of the Ohio legislature where bills involving unemployment compensation, abortion, and energy standards are likely to anger Democrats.