The similarities between the Ohio Republican Primary last month and the Virginia Ranked-Choice convention first ballot last November are amazing.
The top five candidates in the two races each finished within 2 points of the top 5 compared to the other state:
JD Vance won with 31% of the vote, just two points less than Glenn Youngkin’s 33% in Virginia. Ohio runner-up Josh Mandel took 24%, also just two points less than his Virginia counterpart Pete Snyder’s 26%.
Matt Dolan came in third at 22%, just one point better than Virginia’s Amanda Chase who got 21%. While Mike Gibbons’ 12% was also two points less than Kirk Cox who had 14%.
Finally, Jane Timken’s 7% in Ohio was one point better than Sergio de la Pena’s 6% in Virginia.
As eerily similar as the numbers were, the nominees entered the general election with two huge differences. Vance has an 18-point head start on Youngkin based on President Trump winning Ohio by 8 points in 2020, while losing in Virginia by 10 points to then candidate Joe Biden.
However, the one huge disadvantage Vance faces is that since he did not need a majority of Republicans to win the primary, just a plurality, his own campaign and groups who supported him needed to attack his opponents to make sure the others finished below 30% of the vote. It worked, but as a result, 69% of Ohio Republicans saw their candidate lose the primary after these attacks by Vance.
Under Virginia’s ranked choice firehouse primary last year, Youngkin knew he had to get to 50% by the nomination, and therefore could not afford to launch any attacks on the other candidates since he knew he would need a lot of their second place votes to win.
As you can see by the round-by-round comparison, while Youngkin started with the same vote percentage as Vance, his work leading up to the convention to win over as many Republicans as possible worked allowing him to start the general election with 55% (as opposed to Vance’s 31%) of Republicans casting their last ballot for him.
Vance is still the favorite based on the traditional bellwether state’s turn from purple to red and the potential for a red wave. However, if Ohio used a ranked choice primary like Virginia or a similar top four like Alaska, a majority of Republicans already would have been on board. Instead, Tim Ryan enters the general election coming off winning 73% of his primary to Vance’s 31%, and claiming at least in his twitter feed to have polled ahead going into the general election.
If this were any year from 1803 to 1904, JD Vance would have gone through the same rounds in a convention that Youngkin went through in his ranked choice primary. He and his GOP opponents would have had the same incentive Youngkin had to stay out of each other’s faces, unlike this year, where no punches were pulled as they each attempted to get close to one-third of the vote.
Josh Mandell would have very likely won the Ohio GOP primary had he not been hit with a scandal and subsequently gone on to lose to Ryan in November handing a red state to the Democrats in the US Senate.
If Ohio considers instant runoffs such as those used in other Republican states like Virginia, Utah and Alaska, the problems associated with sending nominees with less than one-third of their party’s voters could be averted.
John Pudner is President of TakeBackAction.org.
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