What did Ohio’s primary mean to the nation?

Editor’s note: After much campaign fanfare leading up to the Ohio presidential primary on Tuesday, Ohioans finally had their say regarding which candidates should be nominated at the upcoming national conventions. On the Republican side, Gov. John Kasich received the most votes, claiming all 66 GOP delegates in the winner-take-all race. Among Democrats, former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton claimed victory, receiving 79 delegates. Because the Democratic primary awards delegates proportionally, Sen. Bernie Sanders (D-Vermont) received the other 62 Democratic delegates. What do these results mean for Ohio? We turn to local experts for their insights. — Connie Post


By Dan Birdsong, Ph.D., Department of Political Science, University of Dayton

It’s not often the Ohio primary elections are a source of national attention, but 2016 has not been a typical year. Ohio is a bellwether and the results from the primary can give us insights about how the campaigns will take shape leading into the general election.

Fun fact #1: No Republican has won the presidency without winning Ohio.

Ohio Gov. John Kasich likely will make this nugget a large part of his appeal from now until the convention in July. His win in the Ohio primary complicates Donald Trump’s path to the majority of delegates before the convention, but it doesn’t make it impossible. If Kasich can capitalize on this win in the next round of primaries, he and U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz could win enough delegates to make the prospect of an open convention more likely, putting the GOP in quite the political pickle.

Fun Fact #2: The last time a Democrat won the White House without Ohio was 1960.

Hillary Clinton’s win over Bernie Sanders reveals campaign organization is critical and it is becoming increasing clear that she will have the majority of delegates needed to secure the nomination. Her win also shows she has strong support from black and white women and black men – these voters will be critical to Clinton in the general election. But, Clinton can’t seem to clear the honest hurdle and her support among white men is weak. Democratic voters valued candidate qualities of experience, caring about people like them, and honesty and trustworthiness. Clinton won over those valuing experience, but lagged far behind Sanders in the other two categories. Even among Democratic primary voters, about a third don’t think Clinton is honest and trustworthy.

Fun Fact #3: The difference between President Barack Obama and former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney in the 2012 Presidential Election in Ohio was only 166,272 votes.

As we look toward the general election in November, Ohio and its 18 electoral votes will be central to Republicans and Democrats. In a battleground state like Ohio, even a small percentage will make the difference in who wins the White House. If the candidates are Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton, then this may turn out to be a very polarizing and nasty election.


By Lee Hannah, Ph.D., Department of Political Science, Wright State University

The satirical newspaper, The Onion, might have captured the best portrayal of Kasich’s chances with the pithy headline “Kasich Trying to Find Other States Where He Is Beloved Multi-Term Governor.” Kasich had an excellent night in Ohio, defeating front-runner Donald Trump by 11 points and at least delaying Trump’s march to the Republican nomination. But for his Ohio victory to represent a turning point rather than a last stand for the Republican establishment, the campaign has to move quickly to develop a strategy that can compete nationally. Former candidates Bush and Rubio revealed that money and endorsements were not enough to win a national campaign; Kasich needs a national ground game to form immediately. The odds are long, but here is what it would take for Ohio’s GOP primary to signal a turning point in the primary.

Kasich’s goodwill with Ohio voters was evident in the exit polls. The governor’s support was widespread and exit surveys showed that he would have won even if Democrats and Independents could not vote in the primary. Not only did he win moderate Republicans and Democratic voters by wide margins, he also drew the support of a third of voters who describe themselves as “very conservative.” But the most striking point in the exit polls was that more than half of Republican voters said they would not support Trump in the general election, the most of any state; that is a terrifying statistic to the GOP elite, especially coming from a critical swing state. It is this fact that gives John Kasich some hope and explains the establishment’s reluctance to coalesce around Donald Trump.

While Gov. Kasich had a big win in Ohio, the rest of the results on Tuesday night cemented Trump’s front-runner status. Kasich’s only prospect is to go to the convention with momentum from late voting primary states in the latter months of the race. To get this momentum, Kasich needs all hands on deck from party leaders. This involves popular Republican leaders endorsing the governor, but more importantly, these leaders must help him by putting their ground games into action in the remaining primary states. This includes compiling voter and volunteer information, mobilizing get-out-the-vote drives, and organizing door-to-door canvassing. The many obits on the failed Rubio campaign described a candidate that was more concerned about optics and perception than organization on the ground. He no longer has time for these strategies, nor a home field advantage. He must leverage every bit of party leaders’ muscle to mobilize voters and volunteers.

So as we watch the next few weeks play out, Kasich’s success or failure will tell us more about where the GOP currently stands on Donald Trump than it will about the governor’s own strength. A nationwide surge for Kasich will suggest that Republican leaders, heartened by the results in Ohio, are not yet ready to get behind Trump and are working on the ground to stop his nomination. But the relative silence this week hints at an establishment that may be resigned to endure a Trump candidacy or to finally give Senator Ted Cruz the one-on-one contest he’s been asking for. If we see party elites act as cautious observers rather than active supporters, then the primary is essentially over.


By Staci Rhine, Ph.D., Department of Political Science at Wittenberg University

John Kasich’s win in the Ohio primary was necessary but not sufficient. John Kasich needed to win a state in the Republican primaries to justify his continued candidacy. Fortunately for Ohio, we are a big prize. Both parties’ nominees want to win this state to demonstrate that they will be viable here in the general election. John Kasich won a little less than half of the Republican votes cast on Tuesday to collect all 66 delegates.

Hillary Clinton’s win in Ohio, added to wins in Florida, Illinois, Missouri and North Carolina, make her the undisputed front-runner on the Democratic side. After her surprising loss to Bernie Sanders in the Michigan primary, Democrats wanted to know if she could carry the big Midwestern states. Her comfortable margin of 57 percent of the vote in Ohio combined with her dominant margin of 64 percent of the vote in Florida demonstrate considerable political strength. She will have the advantage of turning her attention to the general election now.

Donald Trump is the undisputed front-runner for the Republican nomination. Despite losing Ohio on Tuesday night, he won Florida, Illinois and North Carolina and is leading in Missouri. He is likely to earn the necessary number of delegates before the convention in Cleveland because many of the remaining contests on the Republican side are winner-take-all. In addition, given that both John Kasich and Ted Cruz remain in the race, the anti-Trump vote is divided, which strengthens his position. But even if Donald Trump falls a few delegates short of the necessary number to win, the Republican Party would be in a risky position if they gave the nomination to another candidate. If either John Kasich or Ted Cruz emerged from the convention with the Republican nomination, they would face questions about their legitimacy given their relatively weak performances in the primaries and caucuses. Similarly, should the Republican Party give the nomination to someone who did not run, that person would also face significant opposition. So the nominating process in 2016 may still hold some surprises.


By Christopher Kelley, Ph.D., Department of Political Science at Miami University

“As Ohio goes, so goes the nation.” Ohio receives a lot of attention in the general election as the “chooser” of presidents, because no candidate in modern times has won the presidency without also winning Ohio. This is because Ohio is a state rich in Electoral College “Electors” and is near evenly divided between Democrats and Republicans. But Ohio is also an important state in the fight to be the nominee of the Democrat and Republican Parties, in large measure because Ohio normally holds its primary in early March alongside other delegate rich states so as to force the candidates to compete for its vote.

Without too much of an overstatement, this has been a most unusual election cycle. On the one side, a Democratic-Socialist from Vermont, Senator Bernie Sanders, has spoiled the expectations of the Clinton campaign, along with the chairwoman of the Democratic National Committee to give the nomination to Secretary Clinton without a fight. Senator Sanders has exposed a weakness in Secretary Clinton’s inability to resonate with young people—a lucrative and important bloc of voters who twice helped Barack Obama win the presidency. On the other side, Donald J. Trump—a thrice-married reality TV star and businessperson—has laid waste to the Grand Old Party, with coarse language and harsh rhetoric aimed at immigrants and Muslims (and anyone else in his way).

Why have these insurgents done so well in this election cycle? One thing stands out more than anything else: economic insecurity. For Democrats, Sen. Sanders represents an end to income inequality, corporate welfare, and unfair trade deals that disproportionately hurts young people, poor people, and working class citizens. For Republicans, Mr. Trump represents an end to illegal immigration, government regulation, and unfair trade deals (as well as Islamic extremism), that hurts low-income workers, small business, and national security. This is expressed in Mr. Trump’s mantra to “Make America Great Again.”

And yet on March 15, Ohio voters demonstrated that they were not impressed with the insurgent rhetoric coming from either party. For the Democrats, Ohio voters returned stability to the nomination battle by voting for Secretary Clinton over Senator Sanders 57 percent to 43 percent. Secretary Clinton won in nearly every category as well as in each part of the state: urban, suburban, and rural.

The Republican story was a bit more nuanced. For Gov. Kasich, it proved immensely helpful to have just run a successful race for governor two years earlier. He won Ohio 47 percent to Trump’s 37 percent — a bigger spread than the public opinion polls suggested — but Kasich’s victory came from help in the more populated areas of Ohio, as well as from supporters of Senators Cruz and Rubio, and from Democrats who crossed over to help stop Donald Trump from winning Ohio. And that speaks volumes to the bipartisan politics of the Buckeye State. As a result of the Ohio primary, it keeps the GOP nomination election a three-person race with the possibility that Sen. Cruz and Gov. Kasich can win enough states — with “winner-take-all” elections — that it prohibits any candidate from obtaining a majority of the delegates needed to win the nomination outright, and the hope that for the first time in 40 years the Republicans end with a brokered convention … in Cleveland, of all places! O-H-I-O!


By Mark Caleb Smith, Ph.D., director of Center for Political Studies, Cedarville University

Ohio once again found itself in the middle of the maelstrom as voters went to the polls this past Tuesday. Though the results were less than dramatic, the context was historic. Hillary Clinton is now poised, thanks to Ohio and her other victories, to become the first woman at the top of a major party ticket in America. Donald Trump, in spite of his loss in Ohio to sitting governor John Kasich, is perched to challenge the partisan powers that have defined American politics for more than a century.

Perhaps it seems unfair to Kasich to focus on the man he defeated, but not even the Governor’s most fervent advocates can reasonably believe his Ohio victory will fundamentally change the dynamics of the Republican presidential contest. Kasich’s home base, built atop a vibrant political network that served him well during two recent triumphs, came through and rewarded the Governor with his first win in the cycle. Unlike in other states, Kasich was able to build an advantage among urban, highly educated and relatively wealthy voters to offset Mr. Trump’s dominance in rural, economically stagnant portions of the electorate.

Compared to Marco Rubio, the Florida Senator who handily lost his home state to Trump, Kasich’s night was resplendent. He reveled in the victory and deservedly so. As of Wednesday morning, Kasich still trailed Rubio in the delegate count, and found himself with only a fraction of the support marshaled by the race’s two front-runners, Trump and Texas Sen. Ted Cruz. While Kasich’s victory will allow him to continue his race for the presidency, he does so in the role of either spoiler or potential kingmaker in a contested convention, but in neither scenario does he emerge with the crown. Trump, meanwhile, weathered the Ohio defeat and increased his delegate lead with victories in Missouri, Illinois, North Carolina, and Florida. Ohio mattered last Tuesday, but only because it prevented Trump’s own coronation — for now.

Mrs. Clinton, meanwhile, is now two-thirds of the way home. Her main opponent, Vermont’s Sen. Bernie Sanders, has fought a valiant race, but the mathematics work against him. Sanders can likely take comfort in the fact he has pulled Clinton, and potentially the entire party, in his direction, at least rhetorically. Similar to Ron Paul with the Republicans in 2008 and 2012, Sanders’ goal was likely never to win the contest, but to inspire and shape the next generation of activists in his party. In this way, at least ideologically, his loss may become an intellectual victory. Clinton can tolerate this reality because she now sits closer to being president.

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