September in Ohio, as across much of the country, means it’s time for regional fall fairs and festivals. For my home town of Beavercreek, in Greene County, the weekend after Labor Day brings the closing off of a section of Dayton-Xenia Road to make room for the annual Beavercreek Popcorn Festival. The festival is visited by many thousands of visitors from surrounding counties.
Besides the rows of vendors selling endless varieties of popcorn and other novelty foods, the festival hosts a 5K run, an antique car show, and long rows of tents where vendors and civic, school, church and other clubs sell bric-a-brac, pass out literature, and otherwise try to entice passersby to stop and give them a look. There is also a “political alley.”
The political alley is the section of the festival allocated to all things political. Political parties and causes set up booths there, as well as candidates running for various offices. For the past 20+ years I’ve lived here, it has always been located slightly off the festival’s beaten path. However, despite its location, it gets a fair share of people traffic.
I’ve been involved with the Greene County Republican Party for a number of years, and this year, I once again helped staff the party’s Popcorn Festival booth. To our left was the official Trump campaign tent and to our right was a local Republican women’s tent. Across and slightly down the path from us was a single Greene County Democrat Party booth.
Traffic at the three Trump/GOP booths was heavy with people wanting Trump stickers, yard signs, “Make America Great Again” hats and t-shirts, and other campaign material. Many complained that their original yard signs were stolen. A big hit was anything promoting a “Hillary for Prison” message.
We rapidly ran out of yard signs, even though we were charging $5 a piece for them. We told people we were expecting 2,000 free signs from Trump’s campaign and they would be available at our headquarters later in the week. When they came, those vanished within a week. On the other hand, traffic at the Democrat tent was light. I saw a few people visiting the booth and even fewer carrying off Hillary signs.
Talking to visitors at our booth, as they ate unidentifiable fried foods followed by unidentifiable melting desserts, I was surprised at the level of support that existed for Trump, even if only as an extension of a greater dislike of Clinton. I was surprised because of the early vocal opposition expressed by the Never Trumpers, and the disappointment by many voters along with their hesitation to admit they just might have to vote for Trump. It seems the tide has turned, the Never Trump movement has lost its roar, and Trump disappointment has turned into Trump enthusiasm.
It could be argued my conclusion is anecdotal. However, as we step back and look at a greater part of Ohio, my observations seem to have some support.
Ohio State Route 42 connects Cleveland, in the northeast corner of the state, with Cincinnati, in the southwest corner. It generally follows Interstate 71, staying a few miles west of the interstate. And as I-71 connects Cleveland to Columbus and then to Cincinnati, Route 42 connects the smaller cities and towns along the way; including the birthplaces of several presidents. Basically, if Ohio is part of the nation’s heartland, then Route 42 passes through the heartland of the heartland.
Since Route 42 cuts across Greene County, I often take portions of it north to Cleveland as well as south to Cincinnati, and when I do, I see nothing but a predominance of Trump yard signs. The few pro-Clinton signs are often balanced by Hillary for Prison or other anti-Clinton signs. This is true even though the Warren County Democrat Party Headquarters, just north of Cincinnati, is located in a small strip mall on Route 42.
I’m not intentionally ignoring the influence of the three major Ohio metropolitan areas that may still side with the Democrats. But if the Democrats win in these areas, they better win big, because I’m seeing that Trump has a strong lock on the other 80 or so counties.
What might make all of this more than anecdotal is the September 25 report by CNN’s Jeff Zeleny that Hillary Clinton hasn’t been seen in Ohio since Labor Day, and currently has no plans to return there. A rather strange move given Ohio’s reputation as a crucial state to win.
A number of news pundits have picked up on Zeleny’s report. However, for the record, Clinton’s campaign denies giving up on Ohio and claims they plan to continue buying ads in the state. Clinton insiders say she has the electoral votes to win even without Ohio, but the elephant, so to speak, in the room is Zeleny’s “poll of polls” results that puts Trump five points ahead of Clinton in Ohio. Quite a change from June when reports from multiple news agencies had Clinton blowing over Trump in the state.
One possible factor that has helped galvanize Ohio’s Republican rank and file to actively support and campaign for Trump, besides their dislike for Clinton, is their growing dislike of Republican Governor John Kasich. Kasich’s problems with the rank and file started with his decision to accept Medicaid expansion under ObamaCare, often defending his decision on biblical grounds. For Kasich, it’s been downhill since, and his continual poor sportsmanship over his loss of the Republican nomination and his refusal to support Trump has only spurred more support for Trump.
Many area Republicans also strongly feel Kasich could have stepped in and helped Wright State University, also located in Greene County, when it backed out of hosting the first presidential debate citing financial and security concerns. Kasich was relatively silent about the whole affair, fueling the perception that his animosity toward Trump was the reason the state did not step in to save the debate.
But whether Kasich was involved or not in the debate affair, or whether he could have done anything about it, is immaterial since politics is often about perception not reality. But sometimes perception turns into reality, and the perception in Ohio is that Trump now has the ground game, leaving Clinton to throw Hail Mary passes.