Don’t rule out a third-party impact on Ohio vote

As every armchair strategist knows, Ohio is a battleground state. That’s because it’s a closely divided state politically. That’s also why no one should downplay the potential effect, on the Hillary Clinton-Donald Trump joust, of Ohio voters wooed away from either major party candidate by the Green Party’s Jill Stein or Libertarian presidential candidate Gary Johnson.

And — attention, Clintonistas — absurd as Trump is, third-party peel-offs in Ohio have arguably crimped Democratic presidential tallies more than they’ve dinged Republican presidential tallies in the Buckeye State, leaving aside Theodore Roosevelt’s 1912 Bull Moose challenge to the GOP’s William Howard Taft. That gave Ohio to Democrat Woodrow Wilson.

People interested in presidential politics all likely have seen seen the 1948 photograph of Democrat Harry Truman holding up a Chicago Tribune front page with the screamer headline, “Dewey defeats Truman.” Obviously, it was the other way around – Truman beat Republican Thomas E. Dewey.

But the Ohio count was razor-close. Of the roughly 2.8 million Ohio votes cast for Truman or Dewey, Truman carried Ohio by about 7,000 votes. One of the reasons Truman’s Ohio margin was so perilously close was because of 37,000-some Ohioans who voted for Progressive presidential candidate Henry A. Wallace – someone to the left of Truman backed by liberals who thought Truman was anything but. (That just goes to show how the definition of “liberalism” has more flex than Silly Putty.)

Realistically, practically none of Henry Wallace’s votes would likely have gone to the GOP’s Dewey. But many, most, could have gone to Truman. Put another way, Truman came close to losing Ohio because of third-party votes he didn’t get, but likely would have – if there hadn’t been a third-party candidate. Would Truman have become president anyway, without Ohio’s electoral vote? Yes, but his Electoral College margin would have been uncomfortably tight. The pivotal point is that third-party presidential campaigns in Ohio can add even more twists to the Rubik’s Cube that is the Electoral College.

Likewise, consider 1968, and another Wallace – Alabama’s rabble-rousing George C. Wallace, of the American Independent Party. That year, Republican Richard M. Nixon carried Ohio by roughly 90,000 votes, besting Democrat Hubert H. Humphrey. Wallace drew about 467,000 votes in Ohio.

If one in five Ohioans who had voted for Wallace in 1968 had instead voted for Humphrey, Humphrey would have carried Ohio. Agreed, Ohio’s electoral vote wouldn’t have given Humphrey the White House; he’d still have had a steep climb. (And Nixon’s Southern Strategy later wooed one-time Wallace voters into becoming Republican voters.) But as renowned historian-commentator Kevin Phillips has observed, once-Democratic parts of southern and southwestern Ohio that went for George Wallace in 1968 have, with some ifs, ands and buts, remained lost to Democrats.

Now, consider part of 2016’s Ohio mix. The other day, the Quinnipiac University Poll’s Peter Brown said this the other day, “Libertarian Gary Johnson could decide the presidential election in the Buckeye State. He is getting 14 percent from Ohio voters and how that cohort eventually votes could be critical in this swing state – and in the nation.”

Footnote: Last week's column, about Golden Week, drew the usual flak about how vote fraud is in Democrats' DNA. Perennial Prosecution Exhibit No. 1: A GOP claim that John F. Kennedy won the presidency in 1960 only because Chicago Democratic boss Richard J. Daley rigged the count in Illinois. Ah, but as President John Adams said, "Facts are stubborn things." Even if Richard M. Nixon had carried Illinois in 1960, Democrats Kennedy still had enough electoral votes to become president. And he did.

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