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Commentary: 'Ohio Is Not Red, It's Rigged'

Then-candidate Trump shakes the hand of running mate Mike Pence after Pence's acceptance speech during the Republican National Convention in Cleveland on July 20, 2016.
Mary Altaffer
Then-candidate Trump shakes the hand of running mate Mike Pence after Pence's acceptance speech during the Republican National Convention in Cleveland on July 20, 2016.

Ohio seems to be in one of its political mood swings again.

It happens every generation or so, and this one seems to favor the Republicans.

In fact, there are many in politics – both here and in Washington – who have written off Ohio as a red state, no longer worth the Democrats' time and money to try to pull it away from Donald Trump next year.

I don't know. Maybe Ohio just needs to lay down and rest for a while.

Yes, in the last three elections for statewide office, the Democrats have been blanked, shut out in all the statewide executive offices, from governor on down.  

But the same state which went for Trump by eight percentage points in 2016, re-elected a Democratic liberal, Sherrod Brown, to the U.S. Senate just two years later.

In all the U.S. House races since the Republicans re-drew the districts in 2011, the total votes cast statewide for Democratic and Republican candidates has been nearly even. Almost 50-50.

And yet, in each of those elections, the Democrats have won only 25 percent of those House seats, despite taking about 50 percent of the vote.

Very odd.

Or not so odd, when you consider who drew the district lines.

Ohio, argues Ohio Democratic Party chairman David Pepper, is "not red, it's rigged."

Lauren Copeland, associate director of the Community Research Institute at Baldwin Wallace University released a poll of 1,361 Ohio adults (it says nothing about whether or not they are voters).

It showed that in a match-up with a generic Democratic candidate for president, Trump trailed the unnamed Democrat by nearly 13 percentage points.

But 26 percent said they would vote for neither candidate, or were unsure about what they would do. On WOSU Radio's Snollygoster politics podcast, Copeland said 26 percent of those people who selected "neither" or "unsure" could very well swing Ohio to Trump again.

"You know, I do know that the Democrats don't plan on spending a lot of time in Ohio in 2020, at least in terms of advertising dollars,'' Copeland said. She pointed out that Nate Silver's FiveThirtyEight politics website already has Ohio in the "leans Republican" category for the 2020 electoral college.

Political consultant and numbers guru Mike Dawson, a former press secretary for Gov. George Voinovich and Mike DeWine when he was in the Senate, doesn't put a lot of stock in the Baldwin Wallace poll, but he does say that it is clear that the national Democratic PACs aren't spending money in Ohio.

"It's not that Ohio is not winnable for them, but if you are allocating a finite amount of money, you're better off doing it somewhere else,'' Dawson said.

"The problem the Democrats have here is a huge cultural difference with the blue states,'' Dawson said. "It has a distinctly rural nature and an aging population. That is just not a good formula for Democrats."

There was, in fact, a "blue wave" in Ohio in 2016, Dawson said.

"It just wasn't enough,'' he said. "They got buried in the Trump wave."

The state's most urban counties turned "a deeper shade of blue" in the 2016 election, as did the suburban ring counties around the urban areas, Dawson said. "It was all the rest of the state that went a deep, deep red."

Pepper said he believes it is nonsense that the Democrats are going to ignore Ohio, either in the March primary or the Nov. 2020 general election.

"They're already here,'' Pepper said.

South Bend Mayor Pete Buttigieg, who is becoming a hot commodity on the Democratic side, has already campaigned in the blue-collar Cleveland suburb of Parma.

Beto O'Rourke of Texas pulled off the political equivalent of a NCAA tournament three-point buzzer-beater shot a few weeks ago on a campaign trip to Cleveland and northeast Ohio.

President Trump was under much political pressure to do something about General Motors' decision to shut down the Lordstown plant in Trumbull County, which had been a major part of the local economy for over 50 years.

Trump did nothing but tweet at the situation and, in one famous tweet, blamed the situation on UAW Local 1112 President David Green.

On the same night Trump was at a ritzy country club near Canton, 55 miles from the Lordstown plant, O'Rourke went from an event in downtown Cleveland to the UAW hall in Lordstown, where he sat and talked with Green about the situation.

Score one for O'Rourke in Northeast Ohio.

Kamala Harris is next in line; she's the featured speaker at the Cuyahoga County Democratic Party's annual fundraising dinner.

"If you don't think the Republicans are worried about Ohio, then why have Trump, Pence and Bannon all been here in the last three weeks?'' Pepper said.

It's no mystery why the Democratic super PACs are spending money in states like Wisconsin or Michigan, Pepper said.

"There are swing states that have only one or two media markets that cover everything,'' Pepper said. "In Ohio, you have eight or nine media markets you have to spend money in to cover the entire state. It's a tough state to run in."

This is a state that went for George W. Bush twice (in 2004, Ohio actually gave Bush his second term in the White House), Barack Obama twice and then, to the surprise of nearly everyone, to Trump in 2016.

"Why would any Democratic candidate campaign in every state surrounding Ohio and not Ohio?'' Pepper said. "It makes no sense. There may be a lot of voters who have had enough of Donald Trump."

Credit Jim Nolan / WVXU

Read more "Politically Speaking" here.

Copyright 2021 91.7 WVXU. To see more, visit .

Howard Wilkinson joined the WVXU News Team after 30 years of covering local and state politics for The Cincinnati Enquirer. A native of Dayton, Ohio, Wilkinson has covered every Ohio governor’s race since 1974 as well as 12 presidential nominating conventions. His streak continued by covering both the 2012 Republican and Democratic conventions for 91.7 WVXU. Along with politics, Wilkinson also covered the 2001 Cincinnati race riots; the Lucasville Prison riot in 1993; the Air Canada plane crash at the Cincinnati/Northern Kentucky International Airport in 1983; and the 1997 Ohio River flooding. The Cincinnati Reds are his passion. "I've been listening to WVXU and public radio for many years, and I couldn't be more pleased at the opportunity to be part of it,” he says.