The road to the White House leads through southwest Ohio. Here’s why.

President Donald Trump’s visit to Dayton last week illustrates how important this area is to winning the presidential election, pollsters and political experts said, and why the area remains a battleground region in a battleground state.

No Republican has won the White House without winning Ohio — and experts told the Dayton Daily News that will likely hold true this year as well. And while Trump carried the state by an 8-point margin in 2016, recent polls put him and former Vice President Joe Biden in a dead heat this year.

In 2016, Trump became the first Republican to carry Montgomery County since 1988.

“I would say if Trump wins Montgomery County by even a small margin, he’s going to win the state,” said former Ohio Gov. Bob Taft, who now teaches political science at the University of Dayton. “It’s a good microcosm of the state of Ohio.”

The state is pivotal right now because multiple polls show a dead heat in the presidential contest in Ohio. A Dayton Daily News analysis of voting data in the past two presidential elections also indicates that voter turnout likely clinched the race for Trump, as his opponent Hillary Clinton garnered nearly 62,000 fewer votes in the Dayton-Cincinnati region than President Obama in 2012.

County NameRegistered Voters (2012)Turnout Percentage 2012)Votes for Barack Obama (D) (2012)Votes for Mitt Romney (R) (2012)Registered Voters (2016)Voter turnout (2016) Votes for Hillary Clinton (D) (2016)Votes for Donald J. Trump (R) (2016)Difference in number of ballots cast in 2012 and 2016Difference between 2012 and 2016 votes for Democratic candidateDifference between 2012 and 2016 votes for Republican candidate
Butler239,99371%62,388105,176247,97271%58,642106,9765,131 (3%)-3,746 (-6%)1,800 (2%)
Champaign27,54368%7,04411,04525,69672%4,59412,631-121 (-1%)-2,450 (-35%)1,586 (14%)
Clark91,24871%31,29731,82089,00671%23,32835,205-2,348 (-4%)-7,969 (-25%)3,385 (11%)
Darke36,44770%6,82618,10834,06376%4,47020,012231 (1%)-2,356 (-35%)1,904 (11%)
Greene124,18168%32,25649,819114,52173%28,94348,540-408 (0%)-3,313 (-10%)-1,279 (-3%)
Miami70,67574%16,38334,60672,25774%13,12037,0791,346 (3%)-3,263 (-20%)2,473 (7%)
Montgomery383,90670%137,139124,841372,67470%122,016123,909-5,947 (-2%)-15,123 (-11%)-932 (-1%)
Preble28,82371%6,21113,53527,81575%4,32515,446483 (2%)-1,886 (-30%)1,911 (14%)
Warren146,37476%32,90976,564152,19278%33,73077,6437,690 (7%)821 (2%)1,079 (1%)
Total1,149,19071%332,453465,5141,136,19672%293,168477,4416,057 (1%)-39,285 (-12%)11,927 (3%)

Kyle Kondik, managing editor of Sabato’s Crystal Ball at the University of Virginia Center for Politics, released an analysis Thursday saying Ohio’s demographics are in Trump’s favor this year.

“Ohio should vote considerably to the right of the nation, thanks to its high percentage of white voters who don’t have a four-year college degree — a strong group for Trump — and its smaller-than-average nonwhite population, a group that is very Democratic,” he wrote.

But he said Trump can’t count on the comfortable lead he had in 2016. He notes that the U.S. Congressional district that includes Montgomery and Greene counties went to Democrat Sen. Sherrod Brown in 2018, and believes Biden could take the state if he can replicate Brown’s success.

“Suburban areas in general, and the Cincinnati and Dayton areas in particular, would likely be a key part of a Biden path to victory,” he said. “But Trump is still better-positioned to win the state.”

The ground game

State Rep. Phil Plummer, R-Butler Twp. — chairman of the Montgomery County GOP — said he expects Montgomery County to stay red. He said Trump’s message on trade and jobs especially won over former union Democrats. And he said the local grassroots campaign is more organized than it was four years ago. They have distributed more than 7,000 yard signs and counting.

After a pandemic-induced hiatus, they started having in-person events again recently, including a “back the blue” rally and a vehicle parade this weekend.

“I’m not seeing that on the Democrats' side," Plummer said. "Biden has the same problem Hillary had. There’s just no energy behind his campaign. You have to have energy to get people out to vote.”

But, Plummer noted, Trump’s recent visits to the Buckeye State suggest the president is not taking Ohio for granted.



Montgomery County Democratic Party Chairman Mark Owens said they ran out of Biden-Harris yard signs after distributing 3,500 so far this year, compared to 2,500 during the entire election in 2016. They are awaiting shipment of 8,000 more.

“There’s more enthusiasm this year than there was four years ago,” he said.

Local Democrats say it’s irresponsible to have in-person rallies during the coronavirus pandemic, so they are leaning more on people manning phone banks from home, dropping off literature on doorsteps and contacting people through digital means.

“Most recent polls show Ohio in a dead heat and so if Ohio is in a dead heat you can be sure Montgomery County is as well," Owens said. "I’m cautiously optimistic, but I know there’s a lot of work to be done in the next 41 days.”

Campaign stops

Biden will step foot in Ohio for the first time since the primary on Tuesday when he faces off against Trump at a debate at Case Western University in Cleveland. Clinton in 2016 was criticized for not campaigning enough in Ohio. Surrogates including her husband, former President Bill Clinton, and her running mate came to Dayton, but not the candidate herself.

In October 2012, Obama and Biden had their first joint rally during the election at Triangle Park in Dayton. Obama, Biden and Michelle Obama had visited Ohio 32 times since June. Romney, his wife and his running mate had campaigned in the state 34 times.

Trump made multiple stops in Ohio in 2016, including a modern-day whistle-stop at the Dayton airport like last week’s visit and a stop in Springfield shortly before the election. This month he and Vice President Mike Pence have made three campaign stops in Ohio.

Trump’s team says his visits show he is more committed to winning Ohio, while Biden’s campaign says there are safer ways to reach voters during a pandemic than large rallies.

Polls show dead heat

The Baldwin Wallace University Great Lakes Poll released Wednesday has Biden leading by less than a percentage point — a statistical tie with Trump — with Biden enjoying a wider lead in Michigan, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin.

“The tight race in Ohio should concern Republicans. Having to expend resources in a state that was once considered a safe state for Trump means having fewer resources to deploy in other competitive states such as Pennsylvania, which is increasingly seen as the state most likely to decide who wins the Electoral College," said Lauren Copeland with Baldwin Wallace University

A poll released Thursday by Quinnipiac University has Biden leading 48% to 47% for Trump — again a tie once you account for the 3% margin of error. That poll says 97% of Ohioans who said who they were voting had their “mind made up” with 3% saying they could change their minds.

“With six weeks to go until Election Day and most minds made up, Ohio could hinge on a sliver of likely voters who signal they may have a change of heart and the 4% who say they are unsure right now who they’ll back. At this point, it’s a toss-up,” said Quinnipiac University Polling Analyst Mary Snow.

This means the key to winning is getting supporters to the polls. Both parties are heavily promoting early voting, though Democrats have requested far more absentee ballots from boards of election in Montgomery County. Criticism of mail-in voting by Trump has a large number of Republicans committed to voting in-person.

Busy at GOP HQ

Volunteers were busy at the Montgomery County GOP headquarters on Linden Ave. on Thursday, where a steady stream of people came in for Trump yard signs. Most said they already had signs in their yards and were picking some up for neighbors and family. They were sold out of Trump hats.

“There are people here who have been coming for decades, steady and dependable,” said party volunteer Margaret Wilkes. “Then there’s a whole rafter of new people, and a lot of people who for whatever reason have never voted before or have never voted Republican before, but they are now coming. I can’t tell you how many registration forms we’ve given out.”

Dennis Edwards of Harrison Twp. picked up yard signs for family members, “for the good of the country. We’re in a bad way right now and I just want to make sure we’re doing a little better than we are," he said.

“Democrats, if they win, so help up us all,” said Thom Nelson, who was there with his brother Leo Nelson to get signs for Trump, along with U.S. Rep. Mike Turner and Chris Epley for court of appeals.

Dems: ‘We need a change’

People coming to the Montgomery County Democratic Party headquarters on Jefferson Street wanting Biden signs were leaving empty-handed because they ran out. Rose-Campbell Blake, of Harrison Twp., asked for some signs for Desiree Tims, Turner’s opponent.

“We need a change,” Blake said of why she wanted Biden signs. “We’re in dire straits right now and I’m afraid for four more years of what we’ve had.”

Brian Faggett, lives in Dayton and was there with his wife Toi Faggett. He said his neighbors who had Trump signs in their yards four years ago now have Biden signs. “I’m voting for a president that’s about bringing this country together,” he said. “Our nation needs to heal.”

In Oakwood, Alison Benford and her husband Tim Benford have turned their front porch into a distribution center for Democratic yard signs, literature and slate cards. “We’ve seen a real turn in the south suburbs here,” she said. “I think the people here in the south suburbs are well educated and I think they have the ability to see through a lot of the lies and the misinformation.”



Dayton area ‘in play’

Taft said he believes Trump’s handling of the pandemic changed Ohio’s political landscape.

“Ohio would not have been in play had it not been for the coronarivus and the economic downturn caused by that," he said.

So now it’s up to Trump and Biden, and those campaigning for them across the Miami Valley, to get supporters from cities, suburbs and rural areas to vote on or before Election Day.

“The answer is, yes, Ohio appears to be in play this year, and Montgomery County is definitely in play," Taft said. "It’s going be a challenge for Trump to win Montgomery County as he did four years ago — not impossible but a challenge.”

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