Many pollsters say suburban women are the key to this election in Ohio this year. Ever since 2018, political parties have been working to attract women to run for office. And right now, it’s coming down to who can get their voters out to the polls.
In 2018, two years after the election of Republican President Donald Trump, Katie Paris decided to quit her job.
“I saw the data and just all of the stories clearly indicating that suburbs were going to be the battleground in 2020 and that women were going to make the difference and I wanted to be part of that change," Paris says.
So she started a group called Red Wine and Blue. It has 16 thousand followers on Facebook. An ad on that site explains what it does.
"This is what women do when we face any obstacle in our lives. We say 'come over, let’s have a glass of wine and figure it out,'" Paris says in the ad.
Now, Paris says her group is working to turn out the vote….by texting their friends to remind them to vote for progressive candidates.
“Studies have shown that this kind of outreach to voters is somewhere between four and 20 times more effective," Paris explains.
Republicans have their own effort to turn out women to vote for their candidates. Lee Ann Johnson, the wife of eastern Ohio Congressman Bill Johnson, leads Ohio’s Women for Trump organization.
“The enthusiasm, the energy is tangible. It is unbelievable," Johnson says.
She says that was evident at recent campaign stops in southeastern Ohio.
“There were at least 1500 there and this wasn’t organized by the campaign. It was done organically and every stop we made, a few more hundred people joined us," Johnson says.
Johnson says the in-person campaign stops are a big part of the strategy to get out the vote from women who support Trump.
“It was truly remarkable how many women showed up to see the big pink bus.”
The parties have done something else to attract women voters. They’ve fielded candidates they think will appeal to women. Democrats gained a total of five seats in the Ohio House in 2018 – four of those seats were won by women candidates. This year, Republican Mehek Cooke is running against one of them.
"I can stand at their door and say, this is just you and me. Let’s talk through the issues that matter. What’s on your mind? And they are willing to be vulnerable.”
Cooke says women open up to her about the difficulties they’re facing during the pandemic and the frustrations they have with the tone of national politics.
But her race has not been without controversy. She recently filed a police report, saying she was threatened by the husband of her opponent, Democratic first-term incumbent Beth Liston. She accuses Cooke of spreading baseless lies. Liston, who is also a doctor, says she’s fought for access to health care in the Ohio Legislature.
“I have a number of bills on prescription drug costs that impact people’s lives directly. We’ve been working on improving education and certainly I’ve been a really strong voice for science-based policy in coronavirus and making sure we can support people through this difficult time," Liston says.
In 2018, Republican Troy Balderson beat Democratic challenger Danny O’Connor for an open seat in Congress. Balderson and O’Connor faced off twice – in a special election and then three months later in the general, when Balderson won by fewer than 2000 votes. This time around, Alaina Shearer, who owns a digital marketing firm, is the Democrat running against Balderson. A Congressional seat hasn’t flipped in Ohio since 2012. But Sherer thinks she will be a surprise upset.
“Since then, we've had thirty thousand new registered Democrats. They showed up in the primary. We also are shattering all voter turnouts as we speak, all records for all counties in the district. So we're anticipating so long as the voter turnout keeps on this pace, so long as there is not some kind of voter suppression or accidental snafu with the ballots, we are in a position to win," Shearer says.
As always, that turnout is going to be crucial. So far, early vote turnout has blown out absentee ballot requests and early in-person vote totals from 2016. And in nearly all counties, Democratic-affiliated voters have been outnumbering Republicans, who say they plan to vote on Election Day. And with a precious few hours left, candidates are working to make sure their supporters vote.