Ohio shows signs of becoming swing state again for Democrats

Democrats are looking to make Ohio a swing state again this midterm cycle as poll numbers show the party has a chance of winning a key Senate race between Democrat Rep. Tim Ryan and Republican J.D. Vance.

Ohio has been a perennial swing state, and former President Obama won it twice in 2008 and 2012. But Ohio has mostly delivered bad news for Democrats ever since, as Democrats have lost various statewide races, and former President Trump took the state in 2016 and 2020 relatively easily.

Since President Biden’s loss in 2020, political observers have increasingly seen the Buckeye State as Trump territory, with Sen. Sherrod Brown (D-Ohio) being a notable holdout.

Ryan’s strong candidacy is changing that. Polls show him in a tight race with Vance, the “Hillbilly Elegy” author who Trump backed in the GOP primary.

Various Democratic House candidates are also showing strength — most notably Rep. Marcy Kaptur, who looked like she’d be in trouble after redistricting made her district more Republican. Kaptur is now in a toss-up race with Republican J.R. Majewski, who has come under scrutiny because he was at the Capitol on Jan. 6, 2021.

“When you look at all of the major cities across the state of Ohio, they’re all Democrat. Ohio was a swing state for a long time. I’m not convinced that it’s not a swing state at this point,” said Derrick Clay, a former Midwest political director for the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee. “I know that Tim Ryan has really went out of his way to talk to rural voters and talk to working class people across this state, and that’s something that I believe is the reason why he has advanced so well in his current campaign for Senate.”

Biden will visit Ohio on Friday to deliver remarks at a new Intel semiconductor facility. The visit is a signal of Democrats’ hopes for Ohio not only in 2022 but also in 2024, when they are optimistic that Biden could be competitive again in a presidential race.

Mark Weaver, a Republican political consultant in Ohio, dismissed Democrats’ hopefulness.

“Ohio becomes less crucial every cycle,” he said. “Ohio’s a big state and there are a lot of people who still think it’s a bellwether and so schedulers put it on the calendar and send their candidates here … but Ohio is a red state is now.”

Weaver noted that Republicans control every statewide office, with the exception of Brown.

“I think that Ohio has been a pro-Republican state for the last decade or so. There’s some exceptions to that,” said Paul Beck, professor emeritus of political science at the Ohio State University. “Now, the Democrats of course hope to change this in 2022.”

Democrats point to Ryan’s fundraising edge and polling to argue Ohio is among their better pick up opportunities in the Senate and one of the races that could decide the majority.

Ryan holds a razor-thin lead over Vance in FiveThirtyEight’s average of polls, 45.2 percent to 44.6 percent but a recent survey by Emerson College Polling had Vance leading Ryan by 3 points. 

The nonpartisan Cook Political Report rates the race “lean Republican.”

“Right now, I can tell you that for the mere fact that Congressman Ryan has been consistently neck and neck or in the lead in this race should tell you something,” said Clay, senior vice president at Shumaker Advisors. “We’re talking more about Tim Ryan than we are about J.D. Vance … I think that he has proven over the years that he has been consistently for the people, and I think that’s going to resonate with voters in November.”

It’s unclear how much Democratic strength in 2022 would transfer to 2024, however. The Democrats in the tightest races in Ohio have taken steps to distance themselves from some of Biden’s policies. 

Kaptur, whose race is rated a “toss up” by the Cook Political Report, broke with Biden last month with a new campaign ad saying that, “Joe Biden’s letting Ohio solar manufacturers be undercut by China.”

Ryan has also distanced himself from Biden and didn’t appear with him when the president was in Cleveland in July. He also didn’t support Biden’s student loan forgiveness plan and said he instead supports a broader package of debt relief and a tax cut “for all working people.”

But Ryan announced last week that he will join Biden at the Intel event on Friday.

“Tim Ryan in some ways is a test case for whether the Democrats can kind of reclaim or pull back this working-class base,” Beck said. “He’s trying to reclaim this part of the Democratic base, he also is going after suburban women, particularly college educated women who have been the ones who have been less enthusiastic about Trump.”

The new Intel facility is in Licking County, Ohio, which Trump won in 2020 with more than 63 percent of the vote, outpacing his overall performance in Ohio, where he won more than 53 percent of the vote.

The White House has touted that the facility will be built by union labor, creating more than 7,000 construction jobs followed by 3,000 jobs producing semiconductor chips.

But, who will get credit for the plant in November is up for debate.

Biden has been focused on manufacturing in the U.S. throughout his presidency, mostly as a way to fix the supply chain crisis brought on by disruptions due to the COVID-19 pandemic. He has been touting openings of manufacturing plants throughout the U.S., like Intel’s, and recently signed the CHIPs and Science Act that he has billed a way to boost American manufacturing.

But the announcement of Intel’s Buckeye State facility came in January, predating the passage of the CHIPs Act and Republican Ohio Gov. Mike DeWine, who Trump officially backed on Thursday, was largely behind its opening.

“The mere fact that Intel’s coming to Ohio is a true picture of bipartisanship,” Clay said. “Mike DeWine should take some credit for this, but at the same time, there were several people behind the scenes helping to make this happen too. The Biden administration and Congress and Senate have a role to play with the CHIPs Act.”

Republicans though see the Intel facility opening, and the jobs it will create, as a Republican success and not one Biden or Democrats can take credit for.

“The Intel plant was negotiated by Gov. Mike DeWine and … Joe Biden is showing up for the ribbon cutting. He had no major role in getting it to Ohio. He did sign the CHIPs Act, but that act would have been signed if the plant had been located in another state,” Weaver said.

Weaver looked ahead to 2024, predicting that if the election was held today, Biden would lose Ohio.

“Mike DeWine’s very popular, he’s going to win by double digits. Ohioans like him. Joe Biden is the opposite,” he said. “He would lose Ohio by double digits if he were to run. Ohio’s a great state, it’s just not the bellwether it once was.”

Tags 2022 midterm elections Joe Biden Marcy Kaptur Ohio Ohio Senate Race Tim Ryan

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