VOICES: Democrats need to fight back — as Democrats

Editor’s Note: A response will run in a future edition of Ideas & Voices.

Days before the election, Ohio’s Democratic gubernatorial candidate Nan Whaley and U.S. Senate candidate Tim Ryan told voters to vote “yes” on Issues 1 and 2.

A “yes” vote on Issue 1 would undo efforts made in Ohio to reform the bail process, which would have kept people out of county jails who couldn’t make bail for non-violent offenses. A “yes” vote on Issue 2 sought to prevent Yellow Springs from allowing non-US citizens to vote in local elections, a blow to Ohio’s longstanding “home rule” doctrine that allows municipalities to amend their charters to govern as they choose. Democrats across the country have taken up the cause of bail reform and worked to increase voter access, yet Ohio Democrats chose to side with their Republican counterparts.

This is not the only time Whaley and Ryan decided to side with Republicans during their campaigns. Whaley joined her opponent, Governor DeWine, in rebuking President Biden for forgiving student loan debt. Ryan boasted that he sided with Trump on NAFTA and criticized the right’s favorite villain, Nancy Pelosi, in his political ads. These candidates wanted to appeal to centrist Republicans and moderate Democrats. In doing so, they did little to differentiate themselves from their Republican opponents.

Meanwhile, local judicial candidates Angelina Jackson and Tony Schoen ran as running mates on the Democratic ticket. However, they led with two differing messages. Schoen, a Montgomery County prosecutor, often expressed pro-law enforcement sentiments. Jackson, a Montgomery County public defender, led with a message of equity and justice that extends to the county’s most marginalized residents. Ultimately, the Montgomery County Sheriff and the Fraternal of Police endorsed Schoen’s opponent. Jackson won her race — Schoen did not.

Whaley lost to DeWine — even in Montgomery County — by nearly 20 percentage points. Ryan lost Ohio by 7. Nearly all opposed Democrats in Montgomery County lost to their opponents. Ohio Democrats shied away from speaking about “controversial” issues. They failed to craft their own messages and purpose policies that set them apart from Republicans. Instead, they took the “if you can’t beat them, join them” approach. While this might have been effective in the early 90′s as Bill Clinton rose to power with his “triangulation” strategy, this past election made it clear that same strategy will not work in Ohio today.

Donald Trump was the invisible candidate in the November 8 elections. Around the country, votes were cast as an endorsement or attempt to end the era of Trumpism. Unfortunately, Ohioans didn’t have that choice. Ohio Democrats tried too hard to appease Trump supporters and left us with either far-right conservatives or a watered-down version. Now that Trump has re-entered the presidential race, it will be imperative for Ohio Democrats to offer something completely different, a real alternative, that could help bring a definitive end to Trumpism in Ohio and restore our status as a legitimate political battleground.

Ohio Democrats should learn from Angelina Jackson and stand on the values that differentiate themselves from their opponents. Democrat or Republican, no one wants to vote for someone who will not fight for what they believe in.

Jared Grandy is a research and innovation consultant from Dayton.

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