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Commentary: Could Ohio Be Up For Grabs This Presidential Election?

Former Vice President and presumptive Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden and President Donald Trump.
Alex Brandon, Patrick Semansky
Former Vice President and presumptive Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden and President Donald Trump.

Four years ago, Donald Trump won Ohio by eight percentage points, which caught the tribe of political pundits by surprise, along with the political professional class.

Can he do it again?

My guess is no – not to say he won't win Ohio, but I can't see eight points again.

In fact, I can see scenarios in which Ohio flips back completely to the blue side and hands its electoral votes to Joe Biden, by a slim margin.

You may have noticed that a lot has happened in the past four years – in the past four months even – and none of it bodes well for Donald Trump.

Spending six weeks pooh-poohing an international pandemic – proclaiming it would disappear "like magic'' while responsible governors all over the country, like Mike DeWine in Ohio and Andy Beshear in Kentucky, were preparing for the worst-case scenario – has resulted in Trump's job approval ratings dropping like a rock here and across the nation.

In March, a Great Lakes poll of Ohio voters from Baldwin Wallace University had Trump over Joe Biden with 47% to 43%. In April, the same poll was a virtual tie: Biden 45%, Trump 44%.

In the just concluded Ohio primary, there was a surge in Democratic voting in nearly every corner of the state – from the big city counties to Southeast Ohio to growing suburban counties like Warren and Delaware, which have been solidly red forever.

Clearly the Trump re-election campaign is not taking Ohio for granted. The weekend before last Trump's "Buckeye Battalion" of volunteers made calls to over one million Ohio voters.

"Joe Biden and the Democrats simply can't match our grassroots operation here in Ohio,'' said Dan Lusheck, spokesman for the Trump campaign in Ohio.

David Pepper, chairman of the Ohio Democratic Party, sees something positive happening on the ground.

"I don’t want to oversell it, but I like what I see,'' Pepper said. "Trump's numbers in Ohio have been underwater for over a year."

Kyle Kondik, an Ohio-born political analyst with the University of Virginia's Center for Politics, says he wouldn't put much stock in the surge of Democratic voters in the primary, but he is not among the pundits and academics who think Ohio won't matter in this election.

"I don't think it's crazy to think that Ohio is going to be competitive," Kondik said.

Biden could make up the eight points Trump won by in 2016, Kondik said, by improving marginally on Hillary Clinton's 2016 performance in the Mahoning Valley and northeast Ohio, in the urban areas and in the northwest part of the state, including Toledo and surrounding counties.

And if Biden were to win Ohio – or even make it very close – it would likely mean bad news for Trump in places he won by minute margins in 2016, such as Pennsylvania, Michigan and Wisconsin.

"The idea that Ohio doesn’t really count any more really doesn't fly,'' Kondik said.

Credit Jim Nolan / WVXU

Read more "Politically Speaking" here.

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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.