Feb. 20: Nevada Democratic caucus
South Carolina GOP primary
Feb. 23: Nevada GOP caucus
Feb. 27: South Carolina Democratic primary
March 1 (Super Tuesday)
Alaska GOP primary
Kentucky GOP caucus
Nebraska Democratic caucus
Maine GOP caucus
Puerto Rico GOP primary
Maine Democratic caucus
Hawaii GOP caucus
Idaho GOP primary
DC GOP convention
North Carolina primary
Northern Marianas Island GOP caucuses
U.S. Virgin Islands GOP caucuses
Idaho Democratic caucuses
Alaska Democratic caucus
Hawaii Democratic caucus
Washington Democratic caucus
Wyoming Democratic caucus
New York primary
Rhode Island primary
Nebraska GOP primary
Kentucky Democratic primary
June 4 Virgin Islands Democratic caucus
Puerto Rico Democratic primary
New Jersey primary
New Mexico primary
South Dakota primary
Washington, D.C., Democratic primary
Source: USpresidentialelectionnews.com, the Green Papers, national parties
*Some have yet to be announced.
Ohio has long been a political battleground, but 2016 may leave all past election years in the dust.
While early states such as Iowa and New Hampshire have enjoyed the bulk of the candidates’ attention to date, Ohio is poised to be center stage for much of the drama to come.
The action will start within months — analysts say it’s unlikely the glut of GOP candidates will be pared down significantly by the time Ohio has its primary March 15.
Adding to Ohio’s attractiveness: March 15 is the earliest a state can hold a winner-take-all primary. A candidate who wins Ohio will get all of its delegates; not just a proportional majority.
And that’s just the first part of the year.
In June, Cleveland will host what some analysts theorize could be the first contested political convention in decades. Even if it’s not contested, the appearance of the always-controversial Donald Trump could still make it a heck of a show.
After that Dayton — Wright State University, specifically — will host the first general election debate of the season on Sept. 26.
As for X-Factors: Depending on how his presidential race unfolds, Ohio Gov. John Kasich could either head the GOP ticket or be a candidate for the No. 2 spot. The last time an Ohioan was on a major party ticket was 1944, when Sen. John Bricker was the GOP vice presidential nominee.
And Ohio could have a monster Senate race by fall, with Republican Sen. Rob Portman having to defend his seat in a state Democrats have targeted as a possible pickup. And if Ohio voters don’t have enough to chew on, another marijuana legalization issue could land on the ballot next fall.
But the presidential race is the one that will be center stage.
“Ohio has had a lot of big election years in its history, but 2016 could be one of the biggest, said Kyle Kondik of the nonpartisan Center for Politics at the University of Virginia.
“For people like me, it’s like being in a candy shop,” said John Green, director of the Ray C. Bliss Institute for Applied Politics at the University of Akron. “It’s exciting.”
Ohio a ‘microcosm’
Green said the state — which has a close to even split between Republicans and Democrats — “is a microcosm of the country. Just about everything that matters nationally matters in Ohio.”
And Ohio’s swing state status, even as the state has lost congressional seats, has become more prominent while other states become increasingly polarized.
“As the number of true swing states continues to decline, Ohio becomes more and more important,” Kondik said. “It’s one of a handful of states both parties can credibly believe they can capture in a competitive race.”
If the state is important to all candidates, it’s even more important to Kasich, argues Paul Beck, a professor emeritus of political science at The Ohio State University.
He said if Kasich is still in the primary by March 15, Ohio could be the key to his survival. Whoever wins the Republican primary in the state gets all of the delegates — in Kasich’s case, 66. It’s a must-win.
But Green said the state’s winner-take-all status could be just as important for other candidates, who will look to sweep up vast chunks of delegates after surviving the early states, which are required to reward delegates on a proportional basis, meaning even if billionaire Trump sweeps New Hampshire, he won’t get all the delegates.
“You can imagine, say, if Kasich weren’t in the mix any longer, Marco Rubio and Donald Trump might really fight for Ohio because there are a lot of delegates here,” Green said.
And a fight, at least at this point, seems inevitable. “I don’t see anyone wrapping up early as has happened in prior years,” said Green. “Just because there are so many candidates.”
On the Democratic side there is considerably less drama, although Bernie Sanders continues to draw large crowds in his quest to upset the Democratic frontrunner, Hillary Clinton. Few expect a long, drawn out contest among Democrats, though that seems almost inevitable for Republicans.
Green is among those who wonder if the GOP race will ultimately be settled at the Republican National Convention, scheduled to be held in Cleveland from July 18 through 21.
“Of all the conventions I’ve witnessed in my professional career, this looks like the most likely where that could happen,” said Green. “Part of it is that the mainstream of the Republican Party has really not settled behind their favorite candidate. I think they will eventually, but there’s a possibility it won’t happen until after the convention.”
The last time the Republicans had a brokered convention was 1948, when Thomas Dewey won a brokered convention by beating Ohio Sen. Robert Taft. And the last time Ohio held a major party presidential convention was 1936, when the Republicans held their convention in Cleveland.
Political parties always hope that bringing a convention to a particular state will guarantee that the party wins the state, but that hasn’t traditionally been the case – the Democrats lost North Carolina in 2012, for example, despite having the Democratic National Convention in Charlotte. Just the same, the contentiousness of the 2016 GOP race will inevitably draw attention to Cleveland.
If current frontrunner Trump wins the nomination, it will inevitably be a show. But Kondik said even if the race is settled and Trump is not the nominee it could be a “total spectacle.”
If Trump gives a prime time speech at the convention, “he will be saying and doing things that may Republicans don’t think are good for their chances in November,” he said.
“The Trump factor alone means this Republican convention is more interesting than any other conventions,” he added.
Heavy ad traffic expected
If Ohioans watched a lot of political advertising in 2012, they’d better prepare to see even more in 2016.
Beck said in 2012, Ohio had four of the top 15 markets in presidential spending. There’s going to be “heavy, heavy traffic here,” he said, “including for the primaries.” The addition of outside groups — many spending money to support individual presidential campaigns — will only feed that glut.
“A lot of outside money will come into Ohio,” he said. “Probably unprecedented amounts.”
Kondik said while much of the focus has been on the Republicans, there’s at least one Ohio Democrat who could spur some excitement in 2016.
“I don’t think he’s a favorite by any means to get it, but Sherrod Brown has been mentioned and will get mentioned as a possible running mate for Hillary Clinton,” he said.
He said while the odds are long, Brown could be viewed as helping Clinton woo the same group of progressives that have backed Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders for the White House and been supporters of Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren. The downside: if Brown left the Senate, Kasich would pick his successor — and that successor would likely be a Republican at a time when Democrats covet Senate seats.
Still, said Kondik, “there’s been a little bit of buzz about him out there.”