Ohio is the swing state that might not swing left anymore — and Democrats have no one to blame but themselves.
The first hint that Ohio might have lost its bellwether status came in 2016. If you’ll recall from my Wargaming the Electoral College series for the presidential election, Ohio was never in play for Hillary Clinton. While that should have been a coal mine canary that Trump’s chances of winning were far better than the polls indicated, most every expert (and Yours Truly) glossed over that indicator as we pored over our 270toWin maps.
Previously, Barack Obama won Ohio handily in 2008 and 2012. George Bush’s electoral mastermind, Karl Rove, bet big on Ohio twice — and won twice, too. In fact, as Roll Call’s Ben Peters reminds us, “Going back to 1896, the Buckeye State has backed the winning candidate in all but two elections — the best record for any state in recent history.” Looking ahead, he writes, “Election handicappers largely put Ohio in the GOP column for 2020 — Inside Elections with Nathan L. Gonzales rates the state’s presidential race Likely Republican.”
You have to go all the way back to 1960 and JFK to find a president who got elected without Ohio. If I could pick football teams the way Ohio picks presidents, I’d be a very wealthy man.
Ohio hasn’t elected a Democrat to state office since Obama took the state by a solid three points (50.6% to 47.6%) over Mitt Romney. And yet Donald Trump, for all his supposed unelectability, scored nearly 52%, beating Hillary Clinton by a whopping eight points. Current Republican Governor Mike DeWine might not be anyone’s idea of an exciting campaigner, but he beat Democrat Richard Cordray with ease last year, by an almost four-point spread. The Ohio House has a GOP supermajority of 61-38. And — get this — an even more lopsided supermajority of 24-9 in the state Senate.
I spoke with PJ Media Managing Editor (and Ohio resident) Paula Bolyard last Friday about this. She told me that “Anecdotally, support for Trump is solid. Even my mom — who has never voted for a Republican in her life — will probably end up voting for him, mostly because the Dems have become too radical.” She adds, “That’s where Trump comes in — the northwest corner of the state is blue-collar industrial — and they’ve always voted Democrat.”
But not anymore.
Before we get to that, something similar happened in my old home state, Missouri. Like Ohio, Missouri was once a solid swing state. The Sho-Nuff State’s record at picking presidential winners isn’t quite as good as Ohio’s, but it is still impressive. Missouri voted for the winner in all but three elections since 1904, the year of the famous World’s Fair at Forest Park. What’s interesting is that of the three elections Missouri voters missed, two of them were quite recent: 2008 and 2012. Even when Barack Obama managed to pick off blood-red Indiana from John McCain, he couldn’t come close in Missouri.
Missouri hasn’t gone blue since Bill Clinton in 1992 and ’96, and it’s fair to say that two dismal Republican candidates, plus the presence of Ross Perot on the ballot, had a lot to do with those two Dem victories. Even more telling, like Ohio, Missouri has gotten out of the habit of electing Democrats to statewide office. Both chambers of the Missouri General Assembly swing about 2.5 Republicans for every Democrat.
I like to call what happened the Gephardt Effect. As the national Democratic party drifted away from its blue-collar/culturally conservative voters, local Democrats had to make… certain changes. If you’ll recall, Dick Gephardt was a long-serving Democratic Missouri congressman (1977-2005), representing union-heavy areas in south St. Louis County, and down the I-55 corridor. While reliably left-leaning on economic issues, Gephardt was pro-life and very much a part of the area’s historic German and Polish Catholic cultural conservatism.
But then he decided to run for president in 1988, and thew all that out the window. His flip-flops that year on abortion and other issues so important to Deep Blue State voters was so legendary that he became a running joke in Berkeley Breathed’s “Bloom County” comic strip. After being abducted by aliens, 30-something permanent frat boy and womanizer Steve Dallas underwent a process of Gephardtization:
On board their spaceship, the aliens had originally planned to transplant Elvis Presley’s brain into Steve’s head. However, after Steve threatened the aliens with a lawsuit, they decided to perform the “Gephardtization” process on him instead, which was the same procedure used previously on Dick Gephardt to completely reverse opinions and attitudes. After being presumed dead by the residents of Bloom County, Steve was zapped back to earth a few days later. To the whole county’s amazement, he was now a sensitive, caring liberal and feminist. He also stopped wearing his trademark sunglasses, quit smoking, and got a perm.
3rd District voters kept sending Gephardt to Congress, partly out of habit, partly because he brought home the bacon, but maybe mostly because they figured he was just saying what he had to say to have a shot at the nomination. But Gephardt was a leading indicator for the growing split between Democrats and one of their oldest and most reliable constituencies.
In fact, the last national Democrat I can think of who even knew how to speak the language of this bloc (even if he was disingenuous about it) was Bill Clinton. But Clinton is far too moderate for today’s radicalized Dems. Can you imagine the “end welfare as we know it” Clinton of 1992 getting anywhere with next year’s primary voters?
So long as Democrats continue down the path of “democratic” socialism, fourth-term abortion, and radical transgenderism, the more of these voters they’ll lose. It took Donald Trump to win over similar voters in Pennsylvania, Michigan, Wisconsin, and very nearly Minnesota. And the way things look today, I’m wondering if any of next year’s likely Democrat nominees can win them back.