Is Ohio, Long A US Bellwether, Slipping Out Of Play For Democrats?

Is Ohio, Long A US Bellwether, Slipping Out Of Play For Democrats?

Four years after carrying bellwether Ohio and winning the US presidency, Donald Trump again needs the support of disenchanted Democrats in the critical state if he is to earn a second White House term.

IMAGESHundreds of supporters stand in line and pass through security ahead of President Trump's rally in Swanton, Ohio. The president has said he will announce his nominee for the empty Supreme Court seat by the end of this week, kickstarting a political IMAGESHundreds of supporters stand in line and pass through security ahead of President Trump's rally in Swanton, Ohio. The president has said he will announce his nominee for the empty Supreme Court seat by the end of this week, kickstarting a political fight set to upend the already nail-biting US election. Photo: AFPTV / Bastien INZAURRALDE

Ohio has been a political prize for generations of candidates wooing the state's diverse voting demographic, which closely mirrors the nation and has offered a reliable quadrennial gauge of American sentiment.

Trump has visited twice in six weeks. And while Ohio might have been low on Biden's priority of states that give him a path to electoral victory on November 3, it nevertheless remains a tantalizing opportunity.

At this point in time, I really don't know who I'm going to vote for, "At this point in time, I really don't know who I'm going to vote for," said retired firefighter Joe Rosky Photo: AFP / Megan Jelinger

Biden has launched campaign TV ads in Ohio, and he and Trump converge on Cleveland Tuesday for their first presidential debate.

Ohio Republicans opposing Trump have formed a group to support Democrat Joe Biden Ohio Republicans opposing Trump have formed a group to support Democrat Joe Biden Photo: AFP / Megan Jelinger


Trump's pledge to bring manufacturing jobs back -- a ploy that helped him flip several Rust Belt states in 2016 -- has largely failed to materialize, and he finds himself in a nail-biter with Biden in Ohio.

"At this point in time, I really don't know who I'm going to vote for," Joe Rosky, a retired firefighter and lifelong Democrat who backed Trump in the last presidential election, told AFP.

If Trump If Trump "loses Ohio, he's done," said University of Akron professor David Cohen Photo: AFP / Megan Jelinger

"He's making claims that he can't possibly back up," Rosky, drinking coffee at a diner near Youngstown, said of Trump's insistence that he has reinvigorated economically depressed corners of the state.


Job flight in and around Youngstown -- a historically blue-collar, Democratic region -- began in the 1970s with the closure of massive steel mills, and it hasn't stopped.

The flag of Ohio (R), the state where voters have chosen the presidential winner in every US election since 1960 The flag of Ohio (R), the state where voters have chosen the presidential winner in every US election since 1960 Photo: AFP / MANDEL NGAN

Thousands of Democrats in the Youngstown area flipped to Trump, helping him win Ohio by eight percentage points in 2016.

Donald Trump supporters gathered to hear the president at a rally in Swanton, Ohio on September 21, 2020 Donald Trump supporters gathered to hear the president at a rally in Swanton, Ohio on September 21, 2020 Photo: AFP / MANDEL NGAN

"Donald Trump tapped into people's emotion of being frustrated about their lot in life," said David Betras, a former Democratic Party chairman in Youngstown's Mahoning County.

"When you're thirsty, you'll drink dirty water, because at least it's water."

Donald Trump fires up his supporters at a rally at Toledo Express Airport in Swanton, Ohio on September 21, 2020 Donald Trump fires up his supporters at a rally at Toledo Express Airport in Swanton, Ohio on September 21, 2020 Photo: AFP / MANDEL NGAN

In an interview Betras expressed bitterness over his party's 2016 failure to speak directly to the "outrage" of working class Ohioans who lost their jobs to Mexico and China.

Tony Hickson at the Mahoning County, Ohio Democratic Party headquarters makes his sympathies clear Tony Hickson at the Mahoning County, Ohio Democratic Party headquarters makes his sympathies clear Photo: AFP / Megan Jelinger

Biden has run a strong campaign and courted Ohio voters with his economic revitalization plan, Betras said. But it might be too late in the Buckeye State, where many crossover voters continue to support Trump.

"I hope that great blue wall stands up, but I don't think he's going to win Ohio," he said of Biden.

Donald Trump tapped into people's emotion of being frustrated about their lot in life, "Donald Trump tapped into people's emotion of being frustrated about their lot in life," said David Betras, a former Democratic Party chairman in Youngstown's Mahoning County Photo: AFP / Megan Jelinger

Joe Biden, here at a March 10, 2020 campaign stop in Columbus, Ohio, hopes to convince voters cast ballots for Democrats on November 3 Joe Biden, here at a March 10, 2020 campaign stop in Columbus, Ohio, hopes to convince voters cast ballots for Democrats on November 3 Photo: AFP / MANDEL NGAN

Ohio is at the nation's heart. It has produced seven US presidents and boasts a unique regional diversity as well as mixes of urban, suburban and rural populations.

It has voted for the presidential winner in every election since 1960, and no Republican has ever won the White House without carrying Ohio.

"Ohio is extremely important for Donald Trump," said University of Akron professor David Cohen, who heads the Ray Bliss Institute of Applied Politics.

"If he loses Ohio, he's done."

Like Betras, Cohen sees signs of a tilt rightward, including the GOP's strong performance in the 2018 midterms in Ohio, where Republicans won nearly all statewide offices despite a nationwide election that trended strongly Democratic.

"That tidal wave stopped at the Ohio border," Cohen said.

Cohen predicts Ohio is likely to go for Trump even though Biden narrowly leads in state polls and is favored to win the presidency.

Some anti-Trump Ohio Republicans are working actively against him.

"Our goal is quite simple: We're trying to reach reasonable Republicans throughout the state and ask them to put country over party," said lifelong Republican Phil Heimlich, a former prosecutor and county commissioner who co-founded Operation Grant, a collection of Ohio conservatives backing Biden.

"The good news is Ohio is in play, and we don't have to change that many hearts and minds to win this," he told AFP in Youngstown.

Democrat Tony Hickson, an African-American on disability, was on a similar conversion mission with people he knows turned to Trump.

Hickson, 59, seeks to "get them back on the Democratic side," perhaps by convincing them of the president's bungled response to the pandemic, he said as he picked up Biden yard signs at the party's Youngstown office.

But some Trump supporters remain optimistic.

As for manufacturing jobs, "they're coming back," insisted retired electrician Tim Fresch before entering Monday's Trump rally near Toledo.

"Here's how we do this in Ohio," the 64-year-old said. "We vote our wallets, and my wallet is full."