The maps of Ohio’s 2018 election results for governor, attorney general, auditor, secretary of state and treasurer look a lot like the 2016 Ohio results map for president. And there are a lot of theories about why that is, and whether Ohio keeps its status as a “swing state” or if it’s now simply red.
Ohio voted for President Obama in 2008 and 2012, and Democrats have done better on the Ohio ballot in presidential years than in off-years. However, national predictions and polls had suggested this would be a blue wave year.
Lydia Mihalik is the Republican mayor of Findlay, and she was watching the US Senate race between incumbent Democrat Sherrod Brown and Republican Congressman Jim Renacci. “We were anticipating, that was a double-digit loss, potentially. And it wasn’t. it was a lot closer. And I think the reason for that is don’t underestimate the power of the Trump brand," Mihalik said.
But former Ohio Republican Party chair Kevin DeWine said it wasn’t just about President Trump – it was about how Ohio voters turn out in these midterm elections. “It was a return to norm for the state of Ohio, who, for the better part of the last two and a half decades – to the joy of some and the consternation of others – has now a habit of electing Republican candidates on the statewide stage.”
DeWine is a former state representative from the Dayton area and a cousin of Governor-elect Mike DeWine. And he notes that in the last last 24 years, Republicans have won 31 of 35 statewide state-level offices such as governor – that’s 88 percent of those midterm races since 1994.
But Democrats say they’re not giving up. “This is a pink, not red, but pink state,” said Dayton Mayor Nan Whaley. She was running for governor till she dropped out to support Richard Cordray.
She says this year’s Republican sweep of state executive offices is more a result of what she calls the “Trump realignment”. But she says new adjustments to that alignment are tipping toward Democrats – for instance, in the wealthy Montgomery County community of Oakwood. “Oakwood, 10 years ago, was 38% for the Democratic candidate. Yesterday it was 60% for Rich Cordray. So huge swings in these suburban communities that will be an adjustment for us.”
Aaron Pickrell ran the two successful campaigns for President Obama in Ohio, and the two campaigns Ted Strickland ran for governor – the winning one in 2006 and the losing one in 2010. He says what’s making Ohio so red is the divide between rural and urban counties. “I don’t buy the premise that Ohio is a red state. For Democrats to be successful here, we have to figure out a way to connect and motivate and get these rural voters, who should vote for us. A lot of times we can make a policy argument about why Democratic policies and a lot of the things that we espouse are more beneficial to some of these folks. But we need to figure out a way to connect to them, and we’ve failed on that so far,” Pickrell said.
And one region where Democrats appear to be struggling is northern Appalachian Ohio. That area has been largely blue in the last ten elections for governor, but mostly flipped to President Trump in 2016. While Democrats gained five Ohio House seats in suburban Columbus, Akron and Cleveland, they lost seats in the state House and the Senate near Youngstown. Kevin DeWine says it’s a big deal. “There is beginning to be a Trump “Gold Coast”, if you will, along the eastern part of the state that sort of runs from Ashtabula to Portsmouth, save certain areas of the Mahoning Valley.”
Overall, Cordray took nine counties, including just two in that area, Mahoning and Trumbull. Sherrod Brown won those two and Ashtabula County among his total of 16. Pickrell says Brown’s victory, though more narrow than expected, shows that he has a way of connecting to voters all across Ohio. “Sherrod Brown should be the face of the national Democratic Party. Sherrod Brown should be the Democratic nominee for president in 2020,” Pickrell said.
On polling – Whaley said the polls she saw and worked from were within the margin of error, and says they need to be considered as snapshots in time. But Kevin DeWine said he thinks polling – both public polling and internal polling that campaigns do – is in trouble, because he said voters no longer trust pollsters.