This weekend marks exactly four months before the Democratic presidential primary election in Ohio. The fate of the 2020 presidential election hinges partly on the outcome of swing states, such as Ohio, so it is crucial for the Democratic Party to swing this state in their favor this time around.
In the 2016 presidential election, Donald Trump defeated Hillary Clinton by eight points in Ohio. However, the final tally does not tell the whole story, as the race was extremely close or skewed toward Clinton in several counties across the state. In Lorain County, Clinton won by only a tenth of a percent, but in Cuyahoga County — Cleveland’s home county — she won with 65 percent of the vote. Despite winning all the major city districts in the 2016 presidential election, Clinton did not end up a competitive candidate in Ohio.
This resounding defeat led many to question Ohio’s status as a purple state. Only 22 out of Ohio’s 88 counties were even remotely competitive, and only 8 counties went Democrat. However, despite their past, these 88 counties are ones that Democrats must once again turn their attention toward in 2020. These are the counties with a high potential to become energized and excited about a truly progressive candidate in 2020.
Following the election, some liberal-leaning political operatives and think tanks wrote Ohio off as solidly red for the near future. Ohio Senator Sherrod Brown and his campaign manager Justin Barasky have made several comments recently discussing the difficulties that Democrats may face in Ohio during the course of the 2020 election. Barasky himself remarked that “Ohio is no longer the swing states [sic] that Michigan or Wisconsin or Pennsylvania or Florida is.” Mike Dawson of The Washington Post — the creator of ohioelectionresults.com and the leading expert on Ohio election results and statistics — wrote an article called “Ohio is Now a Red State. Can Democrats Ever Take It Back?.” In the article, he gives an account of the rise of a “firewall” of conservatism in Ohio and explains why it is unlikely that Ohio will go anything but red in any election in the near future. Finally, the Democratic chairman in Mahoning County — which encompasses Youngstown — remarked in an interview, “I don’t know how you can call [Ohio] anything but red.”
On one level, this impulse is understandable. In recent years, too much of our national political discourse has focused on winning rural white voters in Rust Belt states like Ohio — often at the expense of prioritizing and respecting other communities, specifically urban communities and communities of color. This has often resulted in candidates sugar-coating policies or prevented candidates from coming out too strongly in favor of policies such as Medicare for All, public school reform, or policies that might combat police brutality against people of color.
It’s true that all politicians — especially Democrats — need to hold themselves more accountable to urban communities and communities of color across the nation. However, promoting this kind of accountability does not render a state like Ohio unwinnable for Democrats — as journalists who have covered state politics, we believe quite the opposite.
Make no mistake: if Democrats bring the same energy, outlook, and moderate policies that defined the Clinton campaign of 2016, it is likely that Democrats will lose Ohio again in 2020. But if Dems seriously heed what they are hearing from voters — health care, climate change, and other issues that really matter to voters, especially young ones — and promote a progressive, inclusive platform, they will have an excellent shot at both Ohio and the White House.
Voters in Ohio are fired up and ready to go, especially progressive voters. Ohio progressives are tired of right-wing assaults on civil liberties. In the past four years, we have endured the Heartbeat Bill, voter suppression, obscene gerrymandering, several publicized instances of police brutality against people of color, and a lack of gun control reform following a mass shooting.
Ohio residents have been through a lot since the 2016 presidential election, but we are ready to mobilize for the 2020 election and energized about many of the potential candidates that the Democratic Party has to offer. Despite being told that Ohio is no longer a swing state, students in Ohio — including at Oberlin — believe otherwise, and we will continue “knocking on doors, making phone calls, encouraging folks to make donations and to do everything we can to get as many Ohioans to vote as possible,” as Lili Sandler, founder of Lorain County Rising, said to the Review earlier this month. (“Democratic Debate Propels Ohio to Center Stage,” Nov. 1, 2019). In many ways, we are fighting for our future.
Democrats — don’t forget about us. We’re here, still fighting. Meet us where we are, advocate for the progressive policies that we need in order to attain a sustainable, livable future, and step up to the plate in the fight against the Trump administration, the Republican Party, and their attempts to strip away our rights and future. Together, we can forge a bold future.