Calling All Ohioans: Don't Forfeit Swing-State StatusOctober 15, 2019
After a depressing 2004 loss in which George W. Bush was reelected by narrowly carrying Ohio, the state Democratic Party revved its engine and launched an 88-county strategy that ensured not a single corner of the state would remain untouched.
It worked. Not only did it help Sherrod Brown notch his first term in the Senate in 2006, it brought the Buckeye State a Democratic governor in Ted Strickland and set the stage for back-to-back victories for Barack Obama.
As a candidate, Obama was a lovable rock star; he was also a calming force with an economy-first message. He had supporters bounding all over the state, rolling up their sleeves, vowing to turn Ohio blue and promising to bring with that economic development. It was an extension of the positive, optimistic “Turnaround Ohio” message Brown and Strickland employed.
It made for much happier, action-oriented, energetic-sounding bumper stickers than what’s broken through so far in the current Democratic presidential primary race, which basically amounts to: “You’re getting screwed, Ohio.” I implore them all to avoid that onstage at Otterbein University on Tuesday night.
Back in Washington, I hear repeatedly throughout the Beltway’s political-industrial complex that Brown is the rare Democrat who figured out how to connect with Ohioans of all stripes, and he has a magic touch that can’t be replicated.
With all due respect to the senator, who is a smart and passionate guy, there’s no secret sauce, and he is no unicorn. His success was a direct result of that 88-county strategy that he still employs, unlike other candidates.
Pundits say Ohio is going the way of Missouri and will soon be hostile to Democrats forever. But there’s another way to look at that: Sen. Claire McCaskill may have lost in 2018, but Brown won. Barack Obama won Ohio twice and lost Missouri twice. Those are starkly different outcomes, period.
And yet, I hear with regularity: “Ohio has been moving away from the Democrats for the last five years.”
That’s rather stunning defeatism and incredible laziness when Emerson Polling found state voters mirror what the nation thinks more broadly about President Trump, and that they prefer even Elizabeth Warren and Bernie Sanders to him one year out from the election.
My message to Ohioans is: Do not let all those political analysts get away with it.
Foreclosing the state to competition between the parties and succumbing to eternal one-party rule would be deadly to Ohio’s capacity to attract talent and competitive enterprise. It would shut down strategic thinking in Columbus.
I’m not suggesting Ohio adopt California’s policies, but consciously turning from a purple state to a red one would close off residents to opportunities and national clout. It would be a tremendously bad deal.
If nothing else, while you may not love all the political commercials on TV, remember that a competitive election is a financial boon for the state. Those advertising dollars fuel investment in local news operations, which we need in order to have a clear understanding of what is going on at every level of Ohio -- and then debate how to improve it. According to a report in Forbes, media outlets in 10 states are expected to see a “significant financial windfall through Election Day” next year, but Ohio is not on the list.
When presidential candidates come to town, they bring with them the national press, who spotlight the businesses those candidates patronize. The candidates concern themselves with some of our most pressing needs, and they prioritize us in their agenda. Don’t let that go.
Ohio requires innovative thinking that will allow government to serve as a facilitator to update the workforce and leverage the private sector to fix the issues that ail us. Democrats have always been the party to channel that: They believe not all government is bad, and it can be used as a force for good. They think toward the future versus preserving the past. We need to demand more of that energy from them.