Five Months Later: Why Lorain Turned Red, and How it Could Turn Blue Again

Election Day is a distant memory for many. Despite a long, exhausting battle and an even bloodier aftermath, the Democrats took power in the legislative and executive branches. It is an optimistic outcome that presents an opportunity for future change. However, the local level tells a very different story. Lorain County was long considered a Democratic stronghold, with a robust heritage of supporting workers’ rights and unions. However, this election, the region flipped. Area Republicans clinched the vote and managed to flip the seats of the county commissioners, with candidates successfully riding the Trumpian wave. Why was a blue wall allowed to fade to red, and can we paint it blue again? 

In a swing state like Ohio, voters’ will can be swayed by the proper candidate and persuasion. Clearly, the will and persuasion weren’t sufficient this election season. According to Lili Sandler, founder of Lorain County Rising, the primary reason for the Democratic loss is low voter participation. Despite utilizing every “get out the vote” tactic in the book to ensure individuals hit the polls, the most dependable centers for Democratic voters, including Oberlin, “didn’t show up,” according to Sandler. 

As someone who worked to register voters last semester, these statistics stung. The main reason I applied to Oberlin was Ohio’s status as a swing state. I took pride in knowing my vote and advocacy could shift the course of political history. However, a local loss rendered my efforts and enthusiasm moot. Oberlin is more politically active than the average university. For better or worse, it is a defining element of the institution. So, underperformance in the vital electoral process seems like a blemish on this image. 

Still, this loss is not the fault of students necessarily. The maze of Ohio’s voting system is difficult to navigate, and many did not have the time or energy to try, especially during a pandemic. However, what about the citizens who did vote? Why did they not feel as compelled to vote for the Democratic establishment when compared to previous rounds? A reason for this shift is the county’s alienation from the Democratic party. The Biden campaign’s local deployments were underwhelming at best and disheartening at worst. Of course, the places where presidential campaigns can send their resources are limited, but the decision to reduce Ohioan outreach reveals the DNC’s priorities. 

Many in the Rust Belt feel left behind. Democrats have focused their outreach on regions with growth potential. Take, for example, Stacey Abrams in Georgia. She mobilized marginalized communities in the state and ensured a victory in the deep south. Voters that were once reluctant moved to the polls en masse. Meanwhile, Ohio saw no such outpouring. Because of the region’s growing Trumpism, Democratic establishments consider the state a lost cause, much like Georgia once was. Why can’t the Buckeye State have a Stacey Abrams moment?

So, what is the next step? How can we make up lost ground? We need re-engagement on the local level with the proper leadership to ensure that we are on their side to swing voters. This is where we, as Obies, can step in. We can channel grassroots activists and directly engage with voters. The Republican Party has weaponized Democratic oversight in the Rust Belt, claiming that progressive politicians don’t care for the region and never will. We can change that. 

The potential for progressive outreach exists. While the results in strongholds were mediocre, a high Democratic shift occurred in other parts of Lorain. The issue is the resources and workforce were limited. We can gain further trust from these areas with the proper strategy. 

Senator Bernie Sanders is closely aligned with Sherrod Brown, an Ohio senator and a staunchly progressive Democrat — a rare presence in a purple state. Raised not far from Lorain, Brown is praised by many for his “class consciousness,” i.e., his willingness to engage with working-class needs, which is motivated by a genuine love for his home state. Still, Brown is one man, a cog in a machine that tends to overlook many other realities. As Obies, we should try to cover these bases. We can knock on doors, educating and advocating for specific problems and solutions. Organizations like the Student Progressive Project have already dedicated themselves to this cause. While we may not have come out in force for the 2020 election, we can make up for this through action beyond just voting. 

In 2022, Ohio will hold a statewide gubernatorial and senate election. These events should serve as goalposts, an opportunity to reaffirm Lorain’s values for a new century — the values that made it a stronghold for so long —and ensure that it, and thus Ohio, can be included in the national progressive conversation.