Ohio has traditionally been the focus of national political attention since 2004. Over the last decade and a half, the Buckeye state has been in the headlines almost every election as the swingiest of swing states, usually deciding the Presidency.
But this year, there was little coverage. It was muscled out of the spotlight in favor of battleground House and Senate races elsewhere.
Ohio Democrats seemed in strong position to hold their US Senate seat, take the Governor’s mansion, and contest several toss up House seats. Gov. John Kasich was not running for re-election, and he used his newfound freedom to bash Trump, causing disunity in the Ohio GOP. So things looked awful rocky for the Republicans in Ohio.
The only public polling during all of October for the Governor’s race had Obama Administration official Richard Cordray leading the Republican Ohio Attorney General Mike DeWine by anywhere from 3 to 6 points. DeWine won by 4.3%. A swing of roughly 8 points! This contest was so under the radar that Real Clear Politics didn’t even write up an analysis of the race to accompany their polling data.
To put this feat in perspective, Gov. John Kasich only won by 2.7% in a massive Red Wave election in 2010. It is true he was taking on an incumbent Democrat Governor at the time, but the national Tea Party atmosphere certainly benefitted him greatly.
Meanwhile, two-term Democrat Sen. Sherrod Brown easily led Republican Congressman Jim Renacci by double digits in polling data for most of the race. In the sparse October polling, the margin closed to mid to upper single digits. The Dem only won by 6.4%. In other words, Renacci closed the gap and outperformed despite Brown’s record breaking fundraising.
Several House seats were considered vulnerable also. The most at-risk seat there was OH-12 in the center of the state around Columbus, held by Troy Balderson. It was rated as Toss Up by the Cook Political Report. Congressional Districts OH-01 and OH-14 were also targets for Democrats. The Ohio GOP held all three. In fact, Balderson won in OH-12 by 4.5% in a Toss Up district while many other GOP Toss Up seats around the country fell.
In fact, Ohio Democrats did so badly that Sherrod Brown is the only statewide elected Democrat now. Republicans control every other statewide office! And they have a veto-proof majority in the state legislature!
AND the Ohio GOP did it all while battling a tough midterm environment and John Kasich’s preening.
Ohio is well-suited to Trump’s appeal, but so were other Rust Belt states like Michigan and Wisconsin, where things didn’t go so well last night. The Ohio GOP didn’t just try to become mini-Trump or NeverTrump; instead, they forged their own path.
The state party there seems to be figuring out how to navigate the new political world of politics and come out on top. They united the new Trumpian wing of blue collar workers while still retaining enough white collar suburban voters. So even if white suburban flight from Trump occurred elsewhere, Ohio proved it’s possible to unite the two groups.
If last night was any indication, Ohio is getting redder, and the national GOP could learn some lessons from them on building winning coalitions.