2020 Election: Ohio’s shift to Red continues

President Trump speaks to crowd in Vandalia.
President Trump speaks to crowd in Vandalia.

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Ohio voters backed Republicans in races up and down the ballots on Tuesday, continuing a shift for the state away from being a must-watch political bellwether in presidential years to one that supports GOP candidates more consistently.

Voters in Ohio delivered a big win for President Donald Trump. Unofficial returns show he won Ohio’s 18 electoral votes by 8-percentage points, which matches his 2016 margin of victory in the state. If Joe Biden wins the presidency, this election will be the fifth time since the Civil War - and first since 1960 - in which Ohio did not back the overall presidential winner.

Gov. Mike DeWine, who endorsed Trump, said while some voters may not like Trump’s tweeting, many felt that the president had their back.

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“They felt that he would do battle for them; that he’s a fighter. My experience of decades in Ohio politics has been that Ohioans like a fighter and it doesn’t matter if it’s a Democrat or a Republican,” DeWine said.

The Ohio GOP’s success extends beyond the top of the ticket:

  • Incumbent Republican Congressmen beat Democratic challengers, including some women who had well-funded campaigns.
  • Republicans hung onto the majority of seats of the Ohio Supreme Court, which they’ve had more than three decades.
  • The Ohio House Republican caucus picked up legislative seats despite a federal investigation into a $60-million bribery scheme that involved the previous GOP House leadership.
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“We’re successful in Ohio because I think Republican policies have done well for Ohioans and they reward our Republican leaders for good leadership and good policies,” said Jane Timken, chair of the Ohio Republican Party. “I also think the party structure has been very strong.”

“I would call Ohio a red state, strongly red,” said Lt. Gov. Jon Husted, a Republican. “But I also say that nothing is permanent in politics....When I first started paying attention to politics, the idea that a Republican could win Mahoning County in a race for president would’ve almost been laughable. Just as it would have been laughable that Democrats could carry suburban communities in places like Hamilton County or Franklin County."

Presidential voting results in Ohio over the past 45 years show that areas along the Ohio River and the shores of Lake Erie that consistently elected Democrats have switched to electing GOP candidates.

Likewise, GOP election performance in deeply conservative counties along in western Ohio have strengthened.

Democrats have gained strength in urban counties: Franklin County - home of the state capital - has voted for the Democratic nominee since 1996. Cincinnati’s Hamilton County, which was once a Republican stronghold, flipped in 2008. Cuyahoga County voters have retained strong Democratic leanings they have displayed for decades.

Republican political consultant Mark Weaver said Ohio is consistently electing Republicans because the population is older and less diverse than other large states and working class residents along the Ohio River and northern Ohio feel left behind by the Democratic party.

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Weaver said 2020 reflects what the GOP has been doing in Ohio for decades: winning.

U.S. Sen. Sherrod Brown, D-Ohio, is one of three Democrats whom voters have placed in statewide elected office.

“In terms of Ohio being a red or blue state, we are clearly a state that’s difficult for Democrats but just two years ago I won the state by a pretty hefty margin, 7%, and I’m not exactly ‘a conservative, hide in the corner, don’t speak out kind of Democrat,’" Brown said. “I think it’s still a winnable state.”

Democrat Jennifer Brunner, who is the former secretary of state, did beat incumbent Republican Justice Judi French on Tuesday. In the other race for a seat on the Ohio Supreme Court, Republican incumbent Justice Sharon Kennedy beat Democratic challenger John P. O’Donnell – marking the third time he has lost races for the supreme court.

Husted, a Republican, said party affiliation doesn’t drive results when it comes to seats on the Ohio Supreme Court. Kennedy and Brunner -- from opposite parties -- each won by 10 percentage points.

Toni Webb, who ran Democrat Joe Biden’s campaign in Ohio, said Ohio will remain a battleground state for a long time to come.

“That’s what’s fun about working in politics in Ohio. It’s a big, complicated state that takes a lot of things to go right to win. Good campaigns lose, bad campaigns win. That’s the quintessential nature of a battleground state,” said Webb. “What will be hard is talking to pundits and funders to make a case for the state but I think we can. Donald Trump was able to pull together a deep, interesting coalition of voters to have decisive victories, to have two in a row. I’m skeptical other Republicans can maintain such a coalition, given how complicated and interesting this state is.”

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