Democrats are facing an uphill fight to win back Ohio in 2020 as Republicans look to solidify their grip on the Buckeye State two years after President TrumpDonald John TrumpSenate advances public lands bill in late-night vote Warren, Democrats urge Trump to back down from veto threat over changing Confederate-named bases Esper orders ‘After Action Review’ of National Guard’s role in protests MORE carried it by 8 points.
While former President Obama won the state in 2012, Trump and Republicans have since been able to capitalize on the state’s white working-class vote in areas like Mahoning County, which includes Youngstown.
Democrats are skeptical about their chances of winning the state back, but party officials and strategists stress there is a path to victory, in part, through the state’s suburbs, where polling shows Trump’s support is wearing away.
ADVERTISEMENTThe party’s choice to hold its fourth Democratic debate in the Columbus suburbs speaks to that goal of making inroads with the suburban vote.
“The common theme of all this shifting is that suburbs, where the debate is, are shifting from red to blue,” Ohio Democratic Party Chairman David Pepper told The Hill. “The path to victory for [former Ohio Gov.] John Kasich, or even Bush against Kerry, that really relied heavily on major margins of victory in the suburbs.”
Republicans largely dominated House races in Ohio in 2018, holding on to 12 districts Trump carried in 2016. Democrats carried four districts won by presidential nominee Hillary ClintonHillary Diane Rodham ClintonWhite House accuses Biden of pushing ‘conspiracy theories’ with Trump election claim Biden courts younger voters — who have been a weakness Trayvon Martin’s mother Sybrina Fulton qualifies to run for county commissioner in Florida MORE in 2016.
However, there was movement toward Democrats at local levels.
Westerville, which is split between Franklin and Delaware counties, is a prime example of a once red stronghold trending blue.
Then-President George W. Bush defeated Democratic nominee John KerryJohn Forbes KerryThe Memo: Trump’s troubles deepen as voters see country on wrong path The continuous whipsawing of climate change policy Budowsky: United Democrats and Biden’s New Deal MORE by 23 points in 2004, while Republican nominee Mitt RomneyWillard (Mitt) Mitt RomneyMilley discussed resigning from post after Trump photo-op: report Trump on collision course with Congress over bases with Confederate names Attorney says 75-year-old man shoved by Buffalo police suffered brain injury MORE defeated then-President Obama in the city by 8 points in 2012.
But Clinton beat Trump in the city by 4 points in 2016.
While Democrat Danny O’Connor lost his bid to unseat Ohio Rep. Troy Balderson (R) last year, Democrats point out he was able to win Westerville by 12 points.
A number of Columbus suburbs also flipped from red to blue in 2018 federal office races, including Upper Arlington, New Albany, Gahanna and Dublin.
Democratic officials point as well to Hamilton County, which includes Cincinnati, as a Republican stronghold that has turned blue.
“What we’ve seen again from both the growth in the urban core of Cincinnati, as well as changing attitudes among suburban voters in Hamilton County and Cincinnati, is that this part of the state is trending away from Republicans and it’s helping Democrats gain the kind of coalition that is needed to win statewide in Ohio,” a Democratic National Committee (DNC) official said in a call with reporters on Monday.
Democrats will still need to turn out more than just urban and suburban voters to win the state.
Former Ohio state Sen. Nina Turner (D) said Democrats will need to maintain the same messaging throughout the state’s urban centers, suburbs and rural communities.
“If I’m talking to somebody in Westerville , for example, or Youngstown or my hometown of Cleveland, the message is the same, that the system is rigged against working people like you and that we must do everything in our power to unreel a corrupt system that allows far too few people to have it all and far too many people to barely get by,” Turner told The Hill.
However, Democrats still face an uphill climb in the Republican dominated state.
While Democrats stress that three-term Sen. Sherrod BrownSherrod Campbell BrownHillicon Valley: Senators raise concerns over government surveillance of protests | Amazon pauses police use of its facial recognition tech | FBI warns hackers are targeting mobile banking apps Democratic senators raise concerns over government surveillance of protests Some realistic solutions for income inequality MORE (D-Ohio) was able to defeat former Rep. Jim RenacciJames (Jim) B. RenacciOhio is suddenly a 2020 battleground Democrats fear Ohio slipping further away in 2020 Medicare for All won’t deliver what Democrats promise MORE (R-Ohio) by roughly 7 points in 2018, Brown remains Ohio’s only statewide elected Democrat.
Ohio’s congressional delegation is dominated by Republicans, while Gov. Mike DeWine (R) defeated Democrat Richard CordrayRichard Adams CordrayPoll: Biden, Trump neck and neck in Ohio On The Money: Trump officials struggle to get relief loans out the door | Dow soars more than 1600 points | Kudlow says officials ‘looking at’ offering coronavirus bonds Ex-CFPB director urges agency to ‘act immediately’ to help consumers during pandemic MORE in 2018 after carrying 50 percent of the vote compared to his opponent’s 46.7 percent.
On top of that, Trump had a successful run in the state in 2016, winning nine counties that previously went for Obama in 2012.
The president also carried 80 of the state’s 88 counties in 2016, the most won by a presidential candidate since then-President Reagan won 82 of the state’s counties in 1984.
Republicans, however, are not taking any chances on the state, given that no Republican president in history has won election without Ohio.
A recent Public Policy Polling survey, conducted on behalf of the progressive group Innovation Ohio, shows Trump tied with a number of Democratic presidential front-runners, including Sens. Elizabeth WarrenElizabeth WarrenWarren, Democrats urge Trump to back down from veto threat over changing Confederate-named bases OVERNIGHT DEFENSE: Joint Chiefs chairman says he regrets participating in Trump photo-op | GOP senators back Joint Chiefs chairman who voiced regret over Trump photo-op | Senate panel approves 0B defense policy bill Trump on collision course with Congress over bases with Confederate names MORE (D-Mass.) and Bernie SandersBernie SandersThe Hill’s 12:30 Report: Milley apologizes for church photo-op Harris grapples with defund the police movement amid veep talk Biden courts younger voters — who have been a weakness MORE (I-Vt.), in the state, a potential warning sign for the GOP. The same poll showed former Vice President Joe BidenJoe BidenHillicon Valley: Biden calls on Facebook to change political speech rules | Dems demand hearings after Georgia election chaos | Microsoft stops selling facial recognition tech to police Trump finalizing executive order calling on police to use ‘force with compassion’ The Hill’s Campaign Report: Biden campaign goes on offensive against Facebook MORE edging Trump by 2 percentage points.
“We know the path to the White House runs through Ohio, and the RNC and the Trump campaign, we’re not taking anything for granted,” Mandi Merritt, the Republican National Committee’s (RNC) regional communications director for the Ohio Valley and the Northeast, said in an interview.
“We have activated over 10,000 volunteers just in a 2018 cycle alone. We made over 5 million voter contacts,” she continued. “Now flash forward to 2020. I mean, the Trump campaign and the RNC are developing the most expansive campaign operation in modern history, and that’s including Ohio.”
ADVERTISEMENTTrump, himself, has also made a number of recent visits to Ohio, underscoring the importance of his political base in the state.
Last month, he visited a manufacturing facility in Wapakoneta, Ohio, with the Australian prime minister. The town is part of Auglaize County, which Trump won in 2016 with 75 percent of the vote.
Some Democrats believe they can make inroads with working-class voters that they lost to Trump in 2016, specifically citing General Motors’ shuttered Lordstown plant.
“In 2016, Trump came to Ohio as sort of the hope of change candidate. He went into Youngstown and said, ‘I’m going to bring back all the manufacturing jobs, I’m going to save Lordstown,’ ” veteran Ohio Democratic strategist Aaron Pickrell said.
“None of those things have come to fruition. And I think a lot of voters were willing to give Trump a chance, and so far his promises haven’t been met,” he continued.
However, Democrats are also focusing on swing states, like Michigan, Wisconsin and Pennsylvania, that Trump flipped in 2016 and that are now seen potentially as a higher priority.
“Ohio is a tough state that is seemingly getting tougher for Democrats. It’s not, you know, the swing states that Michigan or Wisconsin or Pennsylvania or Florida is,” Justin Barasky, Brown’s campaign manager in 2018, told The Hill. “It is still winnable if you have a candidate that voters believe is authentic and is fighting for them.”
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