Don’t Let Ohio Go Red: Looking to 2022 Statewide Races

After nearly two years of constant horse-race coverage, a divisive Democratic primary, the long nights watching John King maneuver through his Magic Wall, and the following violent melodrama over unfounded election fraud conspiracies: voters are exhausted, to say the least. 

The midterm elections are likely the last thing anyone wants to think about, especially as Americans navigate COVID vaccines and variants and calamitous climate change crises in this off-election year.

With Trump’s impeachment trial now in the rearview window and slim Democratic majorities in the House and Senate, it’s tempting to breathe a sigh of relative relief and sink back into political passivity. Political news alerts, now largely covering cabinet confirmation politicking, don’t quite command the same constant and incensed urgency as they have in the past four years. Liberals are eagerly replacing the image of Melania Trump’s ominous, Handmaid’s Tale-esque Christmas trees with Jill Biden’s earnest, unity-minded White House-lawn cartoon hearts.

This sense of presidential normalcy, however, must not beget complacency. 

Ohio Democrats are facing a Goliath of a midterm in 2022. With the way the past four elections have gone for blue Ohioans, we don’t have a second to waste in this pre-election period. 

Ohio is no longer the swinging political bellwether it was long known as. Last November, Trump won the state by a comfortable 8 points, turning out around 300,000 more Ohioans than he did in 2016 to compound his victory. It was the first time since 1960 that Ohio went for the losing candidate in a presidential election. 

The MAGA signs that line the roads out of Oberlin obscure Obama’s electoral victories in Ohio in 2008 and 2012 — a distant memory. Sherrod Brown remains the only statewide-elected Democrat since 2011. Gerrymandering has certainly played a browbeating role in the Ohio congressional electoral landscape —  Jim Jordan ability to keep his office comes to mind. Upcoming statewide elections in 2022 are Ohio Democrats’ last chance to tangibly redeem themselves, lest the national party abandon the state and reallocate resources towards more favorable battlegrounds in future elections.

Frankly, the danger cannot be understated — the 2022 midterm elections have the potential to immutably shift Ohio from a swing state into solid red territory. Blue Ohioans need to start not just thinking, but acting, ahead of 2022.

Last month, Republican Senator Rob Portman announced his impending retirement at the end of his term last month, and Rep. Tim Ryan (OH-13) is expected to be the Democratic contender in the 2022 Senate election. Though Ryan has yet to formally announce his candidacy, the Cook Political Report has already projected the race slightly in his favor. Given these odds and the hefty price tag attached to Senate races, Ohio Dems have to hit the ground running, financially speaking, once he officially enters the ring. 

The current Republican governor, Mike DeWine, is also up for re-election in 2022 and has amassed over $3.6 million in donations thus far, a record for an Ohio gubernatorial incumbent at this stage of the race. Once the opportunity arises, hopping on a fundraising phone bank or two can help the Dem nominees gain more ad spots in Ohio’s media markets. More importantly, however, shoring up funds early on will force national Republicans to actively fight to hold onto the Ohio Senate and gubernatorial seats. 

A special election coming up in our neighboring Cuyahoga County presents a window for Ohio progressives ahead of 2022. as Rep. Marcia Fudge (OH-11) is expected to be confirmed as the U.S. Secretary of Housing and Urban Development in the coming weeks. An ideological race to succeed her is already shaping up between moderate Shontel Brown, a Cuyahoga County councillor and Fudge mentee, and progressive Nina Turner, former Ohio State Senator and president of Our Revolution. Turner is pushing for $2,000 monthly stimulus payments until the end of the pandemic, as well as Medicare for All and a minimum wage raise. This primary for Ohio’s 11th congressional district, to be held later this year, is a chance for Ohioans to prove that progressive — not merely Democratic — politics can win in this state. 

Oberlin students should extend their time and resources supporting Turner’s campaign this spring and summer. Just because we don’t have a vote in Cuyahoga County doesn’t mean we can’t still play a vital role.

Beyond the steep climb Ohio Democrats face in upcoming elections, Ohio Secretary of State Frank LaRose’s move last week to restrict ballot drop-off boxes to one per county should rouse progressives from passivity. Though voter suppression is often associated with Southern states like Georgia and Texas, the threat to voting rights here in Ohio is alive and real. However, the two years between Stacey Abrams’ gubernatorial loss and the 2020 presidential and Senate runoff elections proves there’s much to be gained in just two short years. Not only can you personally email LaRose to reverse this decision, but you can and should join the advocacy efforts of the Ohio Voting Rights Coalition in these next two years. 

We may only live in Oberlin for four years, but that’s more than enough time to leave the Ohio electoral landscape a little bit better than we found it as first-year transplants. Oberlin students may be notoriously busy, but we can make time for a Turner for Congress phone bank or a quick email to the Ohio Secretary of State’s Office. The future of Democratic politics is bleak — Obies have to be electorally engaged and vigilant against conservatism in Ohio. The new “normalcy” cannot become the new complacency.