Ohio still relevant in presidential race

Supporters of Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump demonstrate outside a rally for Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton, and former vice president Al Gore, Tuesday, Oct. 11, 2016, in Miami. During the event, Clinton will emphasizing her plans to develop more clean energy, reduce fossil fuel production and build more weather-resistant infrastructure. (AP Photo/Wilfredo Lee)

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Supporters of Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump demonstrate outside a rally for Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton, and former vice president Al Gore, Tuesday, Oct. 11, 2016, in Miami. During the event, Clinton will emphasizing her plans to develop more clean energy, reduce fossil fuel production and build more weather-resistant infrastructure. (AP Photo/Wilfredo Lee)

Just a couple of weeks ago, the smart money was saying Ohio’s time has passed as the key state in the presidential election.

They said Ohio was too white, had too few Hispanics and nowhere near enough college graduates. While Republican Donald Trump’s populist message resonated with working class whites, Democrat Hillary Clinton was seen as having little chance to connect with voters in the state.

Some even suggested she wasn’t even seriously contesting Ohio.

Yet despite all the talk of Ohio losing its political mojo, the eulogy appears to be premature. Polls show Clinton has rebounded following the release of an 11-year-old videotape last weekend that showed the then 59-year-old Trump using vulgar sexual language to describe women. And even before then, momentum seemed to be shifting, putting Ohio increasingly in play.

On Monday, the day after the second presidential debate, Clinton campaigned at Ohio State University. President Barack Obama will campaign for Clinton at two appearances in the state this week: Thursday in Columbus and Friday in Cleveland. And Trump on Thursday will hold a rally at U.S. Bank Arena in downtown Cincinnati.

Just as in past elections, Ohio remains a presidential prize coveted by both parties. What might be different this year is that Clinton has a much more viable path to win the presidency without Ohio than Trump does. She clearly wants to win Ohio, while he must win Ohio or he will lose the election.

“If Hillary Clinton wins Ohio, it’s over for Trump,” said Kyle Kondik, an analyst for the University of Virginia Center for Politics and author of “Bellwether: Why Ohio Picks the President.”

Added David Leland, former chairman of the Ohio Democratic Party: “You cannot put 270 electoral votes on the table without winning Ohio if you are a Republican.”

Dwindling influence

The argument that Ohio is losing some of its presidential cache results from population patterns that have elevated the importance of states like Virginia, North Carolina and Florida.

The electorate isn’t static, but Ohio’s population has been for the most part, which has served to lessen its impact on the national stage.

“Ohio is clearly not going to be the decisive state in the Electoral College this time,” said David Wasserman, an analyst with the non-partisan Cook Political Report in Washington.

Ohio’s dwindling clout could be more than a temporary thing, according to Mark Caleb Smith, director of the Center for Political Studies at Cedarville University.

“Just on a pure numerical level, Ohio — unless something changes — is probably going to continue to decline just in sheer importance,” Smith said. “It’s becoming a little less diverse over time. If you look at the pure statistical levels, it’s looking a little bit less and less like America, especially when you compare it to 10 or 20 years ago.”

Still others say it’s the candidates, not the state, that is changing the dynamic. Trump is appealing to blue-collar workers who might normally vote for a Democrat while Clinton resonates with well-educated suburban women, a group which have traditionally leaned Republican.

“Democrats who vote for Donald Trump may not vote for a Republican in the next election, depending on who the candidate is,” said Mike Dawson, creator Ohio Election Results.com, a political web site.

Ohio still mirrors the country in some ways. While Virginia’s percentage of college-degree-holders far exceeds Ohio’s and Florida’s Hispanic population dwarfs the just 3.6 percent here, the changing nature of the economy nationally is reflected back on Ohio.

Ohio’s median household income of $48,849 is higher than North Carolina and Florida, and its image as a collection of blue-collar workers is outdated. In 1995, the state’s two largest employers were General Motors and Ford; today, the state’s largest employers are the Cleveland Clinic and Wal-Mart.

And nine of the state’s 25 largest employers are in health care.

Still important

Those who dismiss Ohio’s importance as a swing state may be ignoring history. While Ohio is a marginally Republican state, it shouldn’t be forgotten that Democratic Presidents Obama, Bill Clinton, Lyndon Johnson and Jimmy Carter have all won it.

The shrinking number of competitive states also makes Ohio crucial for both parties today. When Richard Nixon took Ohio in 1960 — the last time Ohio didn’t pick the winner — 26 states were decided by six points or less. In 2012, Ohio was among just nine states where the race was that close. The number of competitive states isn’t expected to increase anytime soon.

Democrats who have downplayed Ohio, such as Al Gore in 2000, have gone on to rue that decision. Gore abandoned Ohio in favor of Tennessee that year, and his narrow loss to Republican George W. Bush in Ohio cost him the election.

No Democratic nominee has made that mistake since and, it appears, Clinton won’t either. Through the middle of September, she and her allies have spent $26.6 million on commercials in Ohio, more than in any other state except Florida.

Mary Anne Sharkey, a political consultant in Cleveland who has worked for both parties, said Ohio is too important to write off.

“She shouldn’t give up on it now,” Sharkey said of Clinton. “We didn’t have a President Gore, did we?”

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