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Why Don’t Democrats Care About Ohio?

It is becoming clear that Ohio’s status as a swing state is coming into question; the Republican Party has made active and deliberate choices to invest in Ohio and woo it away from Democrats, while the Democratic Party has been noticeably absent for the past three years. Looking towards the Midterm elections, it seems as though Republicans will dominate the Ohio state legislature and governorship due to purposeful political plays, policymaking and well-organized elections. The Republican Party is trying to turn Ohio red and the Democrats haven’t even noticed.

The most obvious ploy to attract Ohio voters was to choose Cleveland as the host for the 2016 Republic National Convention. The GOP made this decision to secure votes in a highly contested area of a highly contested state. Cuyahoga County — the most populous county in the state and home to Cleveland — has voted for the Democratic presidential candidate in the past five elections. In fact, Obama won Cuyahoga County by a larger margin of votes than he did in the state writ large. In fact, without Cuyahoga County votes, Romney would have taken Ohio. It would appear that “so goes Cuyahoga County, so goes Ohio, so goes the presidency.” Winning Cuyahoga County would have severe ramifications on the 2016 election and appears to be a key aspect to the Republican Party’s political strategy.

Other approaches used by the Republican Party to gain influence in the rest of the state have not been so obvious. Most notably, a Supreme Court decision that will affect how Ohioans vote in 2014 and beyond. For the past four general elections, Ohio has had a 35-day early voting period, which included a week of same-day voting and registration. In February 2014, the Ohio legislature — dominated by Republicans — shortened the early voting period to 22 days by eliminating the first week – the week of same-day voting and registration – as well as “all Sundays, the Monday before election day and all evening hours.” The law essentially makes it more difficult for individuals with limited time and resources to vote. Almost immediately, groups like the ACLU and NAACP filed a lawsuit to repeal that decision. The district court upheld the law, while the Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals decided to reverse the law. On Monday September 29th, The United States Supreme Court denied the appeal.

This decision has several important implications for the upcoming midterm elections. First and foremost, the back and forth over this issue creates “uncertainty and confusion in the upcoming elections.” Understanding voting procedures, regardless of the demographic, is crucial for voters and can contribute to low turnout. That being said, limiting the number of days for early voting disproportionately targets low-income minority groups. Proponents of the early voting days reduction advocate that “Ohio offers more early voting options than 41 states” and that opportunities to vote by mail are still available. However, one of the appellate judges who voted to repeal the law said that “African-Americans, lower income individuals and the homeless are distrustful of the mail…[or] would prefer to vote in person for unrelated reasons.” Additionally, by eliminating the only week that allowed for same-day registration, the law creates problems for individuals with limited time and opportunity to vote. In three different ways, the Supreme Court decision disproportionately affects and discourages voting within low-income, minority populations — the very populations most likely to vote for Democrats.

The decision followed the ideological split typically seen in the Supreme Court: Ginsburg, Kagan, Sotomayor and Breyer sided with repealing the law, while Scalia, Kennedy, Thomas, Alito and Roberts upheld the law. That partisan split alludes to the greater problem present: a Republican legislature writes a law and a conservative Supreme Court upholds a law that targets a demographic most likely to vote for Democrats. By limiting the potential influence of Democratic votes, the legislation subtly endorses both incumbent Republican Governor Kasich and future Republican candidates. The Republican Party is efficiently making purposeful decisions to create opportunities for Republican candidates to be elected during not only the 2014 midterm elections, but also in the 2016 presidential election as well.

A major contributing factor to that legislation being written at all was the redistricting or gerrymandering of representative districts for the Ohio state legislature as well as for congressional districts. In 2011, the Ohio legislature — which was dominated by Republicans following the 2010 midterm elections — redrew the Ohio districts. As has become typical of party-dominated legislatures, they did so to favor Republican interests in the state. The major focus of the redistricting was to separate urban and rural voters. Cleveland, Columbus, Toledo and Canton all became their own districts and comfortably voted for Democrats, while the rest of the state — predominately rural — voted for Republicans. The distribution was the same for the state House of Representatives elections. That type of redistribution gives Republicans a decided advantage in all elections for at least the next ten years. While the Democratic Party had limited opportunities to prevent redistricting, grass roots movements were mobilized during the redistricting process and went unsupported by the DNC. That type of ambivalence costs the Democratic Party influence in Ohio and leads to advantageous situations for the GOP.

Most surprising in the GOP efforts to win Ohio is the sudden turnaround in the Ohio gubernatorial race between incumbent Republican John Kasich and Democratic Cuyahoga County City Councilman Ed Fitzgerald. Kasich has extensive national experience serving in the House of Representatives for nine terms, while Fitzgerald has a more varied past as an FBI agent and local politician. Fitzgerald’s campaign has fallen apart in the past month: dismal fundraising that has negatively affected the entire campaign, personal scandal surround Fitzgerald being found in a car with an unknown woman at four in the morning and a “staff exodus” with both his campaign manager and communications director quitting two months before the election. Additionally, Fitzgerald’s first choice in running mate, Eric Kearney, was forced to leave the ticket after significant allegations of unpaid taxes. Polls taken from July to September show Kasich leading Fitzgerald at a minimum of 12 percent and a maximum of 30 percent. Either way, with five weeks until Election Day, Fitzgerald needs a miracle.

The entire campaign has been a disaster, with the New York Times calling it a “fumble,” and has made Kasich look like a polished, reliable politician.

This could have been an excellent opportunity for the Democratic Party to appropriately fund, staff, and prepare a strong candidate to be Governor. And yet, it would appear as though the DNC is nowhere to be found as one of the most important swing states seems to be comfortably leaning red. Instead, they have allowed a once promising candidate to “implode” and threaten the prospects of various other Democratic candidates. Conversely, the Republican Party has rallied around Kasich and unified in supporting him. Chris Christie has verbally and physically supported Kasich’s campaign by repeatedly visiting Ohio and pledging his support. Further, Kasich has become a regular Republican fundraiser and is included on the short list of potential 2016 Presidential candidates. Kasich has a unified party supporting him, while Fitzgerald can’t even maintain his staff.

The DNC has essentially given the RNC a golden ticket to dominate Ohio. Whereas Ohio used to be up in the air, it seems as though today it is firmly located on red soil.

About the Author

A member of the Class of 2017, Brenna is concentrating in Public Policy and Economics.