Buckeye State may buck Democrats in 2016
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MARIETTA, OH – While the path of who wins Ohio in November might not come through the small community of Marietta, the first city in the Buckeye State; it is highly likely that this one time Democratic stronghold is going Republican this November.

Located halfway between Pittsburgh to its East and Columbus to its West – this Appalachia town hugs the last northerly curve of the Ohio River – its geographical position places it between Pennsylvania and Ohio, the two states who will decide this election. It’s socio-economic position of moderate conservatism underscores the depth of understanding what might happen in both states.

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It is true that no Republican has ever won the presidency without winning Ohio. It is also true that, beginning in 1964, Ohio is the only state that has always thrown its support behind the eventual winner.  

To understand why both states are so important, all you have to do is look at an electoral vote map.  

If you know anything about politics, you know that you can safely predict how almost all of the states will vote even before anyone casts a ballot, explained Paul Sracic, political science professor at Youngstown State University.  

“By most estimates, after all of these locked states vote, the Democrats are ahead 217 to 191,” he says of the reliable states that either always go Republican or Democrat.

There are at most about 10 swing states controlling 130 electoral votes; Republicans have to win about 60% of these votes, while Democrats only have to win 40% Sracic explained, “All swing states are not equal.  New Hampshire, for example, only has 4 electoral votes,” he said.

For Republicans to win, they have put together a bunch of states with large numbers of electoral votes.  Among the swing states, the top 3 in terms of electoral votes are Florida, Pennsylvania, and Ohio.  

Ohio presidential elections are extremely close explains Sracic, “If you total up all of the votes for the Republican presidential candidates between 2000 and 2012, and compare that number to all the votes for the Democratic candidate for president you get difference of less than one percentage points,” he said.

Or somewhere around the amount of all of the voters located in Washington County where Marietta sits.

The best way of analyzing the vote in Ohio, is to look at the population of counties.  There are 88 counties in Ohio, but most of them have very small populations. Obama won 9 of the 10 largest counties in Ohio in both 2008 and in 2012.

In 2012, Romney won every county (27) with a population under 40,000, and lost every county (5) with a population over 500,000.

“It is unlikely that this will change very much in 2016, but given how close it was in 2012, only a slight change could give the state to the Republicans,” said Sracic.

Sracic says to keep an eye on the larger population counties like Hamilton where Cincinnati sits where the vote was close for eventual presidents, “It’s the biggest prize, in 2004, Bush narrowly won Hamilton County, and also won Ohio. Obama won Hamilton County by only about 4 points in 2012,” he said of the county of 800,000.

Stark is another one to keep an eye out on, with a population of nearly 400,000. Obama only won it by 1 percentage point.

Even the tenth most populist county in the state, Mahoning County, the heart of the Mahoning Valley, an area devastated by trade deals, new technologies and the home of the remains of America’s once mighty steel industry..

A Democrat powerhouse of voters with Youngstown as its capitol – it went big for Obama in 2012 but the primary results in 2016 showed a big win for Trump and a lot of cross-over votes for the controversial Republican presumptive nominee.

In the primary in March, Ohio saw a tremendous number of Democrats crossing over to vote in the Republican primary said Sracic, “Statewide, about 6 percent of Republican voters in the primary in Ohio were formerly Democrats. In Mahoning County, nearly 27 percent of voters in the primary were previously Democrats,” he said.

“If Trump were to somehow win this county, the election is over,” said Sracic, “I still think that is unlikely, what may be more likely is that Trump performs as well as Reagan did back in the 1980's,” he said.

In 1984, Reagan lost Mahoning County, but earned about 41% of the vote. That may not sound significant, but since then no Republican has ever earned even 40% of the votes of these working class voters.  Will these Reagan Democrats and their children become Trump Democrats?

What may really benefit Democrats in November, however, will be "Get out the Vote" (GOTV) efforts. In 2004, the Bush operation in Ohio was legendary. Obama did even better, however, in 2008 and 2012. While Hillary ClintonHillary Diane Rodham ClintonGOP struggles with retirement wave Overnight Energy: Trump to revoke California's tailpipe waiver | Democrats propose bill to revoke Trump endangered species rollback | Trump officials finalize rule allowing fewer inspectors at pork plants Mark Mellman: The most important moment in history? MORE has several field offices already open across the state there is little indication that Trump is taking GOTV seriously.

Places like Washington County where the unemployment rate is 7.8 percent, compared to Delaware County near Columbus which is four points lower, sit on the precipice of moderate prosperity in its role as the gateway to Ohio’s natural gas boom.

People are hungry here for a message of bringing America back as opposed to blame for everything that is wrong with America. That is true of scores of counties in this state, whichever candidate can articulate that without over-promising what they cannot deliver holds the key to winning this state, and likely the presidency.

Zito is a Pittsburgh Tribune-Review editorial page columnist. Contact her at szito@tribweb.com.