Realignment Central in 2018: Ohio

Mahoning County should be as solidly blue as it comes.  The county recently gave Obama a 28 percent win and even voted against John Kasich in 2014.  But in the recently concluded midterms amid a national environment hostile to Republicans the party swept every statewide office.

Specific to Mahoning County, the GOP has been increasingly competitive in elections.  Some of those Republicans win.  In a state senate race held by Democrats for a century, Michael Rulli eked out a win in the 33rd district.  Don Manning won a house seat in the 59th district nestled squarely in the county.  For the first time in a century two Republicans from the county are going to Columbus.

The story is different in suburban Franklin County.  Long a bastion of pockets of conservative support in one of three of the state’s most populated counties, Republicans have held the upper-hand in local elections politically for decades.  But, this go-round, Republicans went down hard.  In three open state legislative contests, Democrats won by double-digit margins margins.  Mary Lightbody won the 19th District by 10 points, Dr. Beth Liston won the 21st District by 13 points, and Allison Russo won the 24th District by 13 points.  All women, all in suburbs, all in districts Hillary Clinton won by 10 percentage points in 2016.

It’s reasonable to focus on the national wave as Republicans were wiped out in California and New Jersey, but he real story can be found in Ohio.  A solidly blue, rural and majority-white county with a long history of supporting Democrats has turned purple (bordering on pink) and a purple suburban county has shifted solidly leftward and neither trend seems to be slowing.

At the gubernatorial level the same trends played out.  Franklin County voted for Republican John Kasich by 16 points in his reelection bid and by 9 points for his opponent in 2010.  This go-round, the county voted for Democrat Richard Cordray by 28 points in an open seat contest.  Mahoning County went from supporting the last Democrat in an open seat race by 28 points to a mere 12 points.

If you lived in a suburb, in Ohio or elsewhere, you rejected Trump and his adopted party.  If you lived in a county or district with a mix of rural, suburban and exurban you threw in your lot with the GOP.

It makes sense we would see these scenes play out in real-time in Ohio.  Ohio has long been the epicenter of of change in the United States and locally has well represented national change.  Some have questioned because the state does not have a large Hispanic population whether it still does.

But it seems to be representative of national trends.  Suburbs shifting blue while exurban and rural areas get redder.  Interestingly, before FDR, Mahoning County was solidly red, until FDR endeared the county to Democrats ancestrally.

This change was not immediate.  Republican vote share in the county dropped precipitously in 1928 and 1932.  We could be seeing the same thing now.

It does also make sense Ohio would symbolize the realignment of the GOP this cycle.  Before the election, all major pollsters in the field in October had Cordray ahead.  They completely missed Dewine’s four point win.

Part of this is precisely because pollsters did not know who each party’s supporters were.  The 2016 election could have been a one-off as opposed to a permanent shift and pollsters scrambled to find out which option it was.

Mike Dewine, as a candidate could not be further from Trump.  Dewine has run and won in races for Senator, Lt. Governor and State AG.  But in substance the two look pretty similar.



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