The Blue Wave that hit many parts of the country Tuesday causing a flip of power in the U.S. House missed Butler County.
But the waters didn’t exactly remain calm as Democratic leaders said they saw hope in Tuesday’s election that their party may soon start winning partisan races.
“I think any look at our performance across the board, compared to the last couple of (election) cycles, you’ll see we made substantial gains in what was a bad year in Ohio for Democrats,” said Brian Hester, chair of the Butler County Democratic Party. “Fundamental change in this county isn’t easy, or will happen overnight. But looking at race after race, it is undeniable that we have made significant progress in attracting more and more support in this county.”
Kathy Wyenandt captured 41 percent of the vote Tuesday in her loss to Ohio Rep. George Lang, R-West Chester Twp., for the 52nd House District. Wyenandt’s 17.22-point loss was the closest a Democrat has gotten to winning a Statehouse seat in Butler County since 2012. That year Ohio Rep. Wes Retherford, R-Hamilton, won his first election to the 51st House District by 13.3 points, which is a historically razor-thin margin for Butler County.
And in the race for the 51st House District, Susan Vaughn nearly topped 40 percent of the vote (39.9 percent) in a loss to Ohio Rep.-elect Sara Carruthers by 20.18 points.
Two Democratic Statehouse candidates haven’t captured more than 40 percent of the vote in the same Butler County election since 2006.
The plan for Democrats was that the predicted high voter turnout — the 52.7 percent countywide turnout was the best for a midterm in at least 20 years — would help make Democrats competitive this year, and set the party up for more competitive races in future presidential and midterm elections.
The Democrats did accomplish that goal, but despite Tuesday being the best showing in years for the party, election data analyzed by the Journal-News shows there’s a lot of ground still to gain if Democrats want to win a partisan race.
Democrats on Tuesday won only a few handfuls of precincts in four Statehouse races and the Butler County Commission race. That has been the historical norm in partisan races.
Wyenandt only received more votes than Lang in eight of the 89 precincts in the 52nd House District. Of the 81 precincts Lang won, he beat Wyenandt by more than 100 votes in 46 precincts. Wyenandt beat Lang by more than 100 votes in only three precincts.
It was a bit closer in the 51st Ohio House District, but not by much.
Carruthers won 74 of 90 precincts, and beat Vaughn by at least 100 votes in 39 precincts. Vaughn only bested Carruthers by 100 votes or more in six of 16 precincts she won.
Democrats were more competitive in the 53rd Ohio House District. Ohio Rep. Candice Keller, R-Middletown, won 75 of the 95 precincts (and 51 by more than 100 votes). However, Democrat Rebecca Howard received 100 votes more than Keller in 13 of the 20 precincts she won.
Any Democratic candidate in the future will “face a steep uphill climb” because of the “significant structural advantages” Republicans have in Butler County, said Miami University political science professor John Forren.
“Most notably the fact that self-identifying Republicans outnumber Democrats by over two to one in the county — and party identification is a very powerful predictor of how someone will vote,” he said. “That said, there are good reasons for Democrats to take some solace in (Tuesday’s) results.”
“The Democrats’ losses (Tuesday) — while certainly a bitter pill for them to swallow — may still contain the seeds of future success in the county,” Forren said.
Butler County GOP Executive Chairman Todd Hall said he knows all of the Democratic candidates worked harder this election than in previous ones, but said Tuesday’s results support his belief the political makeup isn’t changing in the county.
“The Republican Party had a great night — both for our local and state candidates,” he said. “The Butler County GOP is proud to represent the most conservative base in Ohio and be the cornerstone of great leadership.”
Congressman Warren Davidson, R-Troy, has continued the tradition former House speaker John Boehner had in winning elections. He’s never captured less than 60 percent of the vote in a general election.
Davidson won the June 2016 special general election and the November 2016 general election with 76.8 and 68.8 percent of the vote, respectively. He won Tuesday with 66.8 percent of the vote, according to unofficial results.
Cedarville University political science professor Mark C. Smith said a Democrat won’t likely win this seat “in the foreseeable future.”
“Davidson seems well connected to his constituency and he mostly manages to stay on the expected side of most issues,” he said. “Barring scandal or a radical change in the mood of the electorate, it is hard to imagine Democrats being able to wrestle the seat away from Davidson and the Republicans.”