Don't Sweat It, Ohio, You're Still Important When It Comes To Picking A President

Oct 9, 2016

Poor old Ohio. Once the bellwether of the nation; once the ultimate swing state in presidential elections.

Now, if you pay attention to some recent national news reports, Ohio is watching its bellwether status slip away. It is becoming the Rodney Dangerfield of American Politics, shifting its necktie and whining that it gets no respect.

Well, maybe the pundits are right. Maybe there are other states – Pennsylvania, Virginia, Colorado, Michigan – who are taking its place.

Most of the national news media buzz last week suggested that Hillary Clinton's campaign might well be looking elsewhere than Ohio in the quest for the 270 electoral votes needed to become the 45th president.

The speculation was fueled, in part, by the fact that until last Monday, when Clinton campaigned in Toledo and Akron, the Democratic presidential candidate hadn't set foot in Ohio since Labor Day.

And, they suggest, Clinton could win the White House without winning Ohio – which is certainly true.

It's become even more of a possibility now since the revelation of recordings of Donald Trump making lewd remarks about women. Republican leaders have been jumping off the Trump bandwagon in large numbers. Saturday, Ohio's junior senator, Rob Portman, who holds a double-digit lead in the polls in his bid for re-election- joined them, rescinding his endorsement of Trump and going so far as to say he would vote for Mike Pence for president. 

So to suggest, as some have, that the Clinton campaign is giving up on Ohio seems to be a bit of a stretch.

"People are writing the obituary on Hillary's chances in Ohio a little too quickly,'' Kyle Kondik, an Ohio native and a political analyst with the University of Virginia's Center for Politics, told WVXU.

Kondik says there is only one other state where the Clinton campaign is spending more money on TV ads than in Ohio and that state is Florida – another state Donald Trump must win and one where Clinton holds a small lead in the polls.

Earlier this year, Kondik published a book called The Bellwether: Why Ohio Picks The President, which takes an in-depth look at Ohio's long record of being a predictor of presidential campaign results. It has, after all, gone with the winner in 28 of the past 30 presidential elections.

Kondik is the managing editor of Sabato's Crystal Ball, a widely-read political newsletter published by Larry J. Sabato, director of the Center for Politics at the University of Virginia.

Last Monday, Sabato's Crystal Ball pushed a special edition written by Kondik, under the headline Why Trump Will Do Better in Ohio Than He Does Nationally.

"Uncertainty about Ohio comes in the midst of a competitive presidential race where Hillary Clinton is clearly reasserting herself," Kondik wrote. "We urged caution about jumping to conclusions following Clinton's strong debate performance (and Trump's weak one) in the first debate. But now it's clear that Clinton got a significant bump from the debate and her numbers are improving across the board."

A Quinnipiac Poll released last Monday had Trump ahead in Ohio by five percentage points, with a margin of error of plus or minus 4.4 percentage points.

But two days later, Monmouth University released a poll of likely Ohio voters which showed Clinton with a very slim two percentage point lead – very, very slim, given the fact that the margin of error is plus or minus 4.9 percent.

The truth is probably somewhere in the middle of those polls.

It is, and will probably remain, a very tight race in the Buckeye State.

Here’s what Trump has going for him in Ohio: The gap between non-college educated white voters (a large part of Trump's base) and college-educated white voters is larger in Ohio than it is nationally – which probably works in Trump's advantage.

"So for historical and demographic reasons, we should expect Trump to do better in Ohio than he does nationally,'' Kondik wrote.

Kondik says there are but three possibilities when it comes to Ohio's role in this presidential election.

1.    If Donald Trump becomes president, Ohio will vote for him.

2.    If Hillary Clinton wins Ohio, she will be president

3.    If Hillary Clinton wins by a small margin nationally, Ohio could back Trump in a GOP loss.

Winning Ohio, Kondik told WVXU, is a "necessary but not sufficient condition for a Republican victory."

If, by the time election day rolls around, Clinton is leading Trump nationally by four or five percentage points, "I think she wins Ohio,'' Kondik said.

David Niven, an assistant professor of American politics at the University of Cincinnati, said Ohio is a must-win for Trump, but not so much for Clinton.

"For Clinton, Ohio is just icing on the cake; it's not essential,'' Niven said. "I went back and did some research. The last Democratic president who won because he won Ohio was Woodrow Wilson."

There is an "enthusiasm gap" that seems to separate Trump and Clinton supporters; and favors Trump.

Niven said he thinks Trump has an advantage in that his typical voter here and elsewhere around the country "is a little more excited about the candidate."

"But her typical voter is going to have a lot more invitations from the campaign to get and vote,'' Niven said.

Ohio's early voting period begins Wednesday; and the Clinton campaign has 64 campaign offices spread through Ohio's big cities, suburban areas and small towns, with thousands of volunteers working night and day to get people to vote early or make sure they know where to go to cast their ballots on election day, Nov. 8.

Trump has field offices too, mostly run in conjunction with GOP county get-out-the-vote center. He has a smaller army on the ground – but he may not need it. His voters, the polling suggests, are highly motivated to go the polls.

All of this will begin playing out in Ohio on Wednesday, when the first early votes are cast.

Don't worry, Ohio. You're not being forgotten. Not by a long shot. It's just that you have some competition these days when it comes to being the center-of-attention. No worries. The candidates still love you.