Democrats fear Ohio slipping further away in 2020

Democrats are facing an uphill fight to win back Ohio in 2020 as Republicans look to solidify their grip on the Buckeye State two years after President TrumpDonald John TrumpTrump signs bill averting shutdown after brief funding lapse Privacy, civil rights groups demand transparency from Amazon on election data breaches Facebook takes down Trump campaign ads tying refugees to coronavirus MORE carried it by 8 points. 

While former President Obama won the state in 2012, Trump and Republicans have since been able to capitalize on the state’s white working-class vote in areas like Mahoning County, which includes Youngstown. 

Democrats are skeptical about their chances of winning the state back, but party officials and strategists stress there is a path to victory, in part, through the state’s suburbs, where polling shows Trump’s support is wearing away. 

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The party’s choice to hold its fourth Democratic debate in the Columbus suburbs speaks to that goal of making inroads with the suburban vote. 

“The common theme of all this shifting is that suburbs, where the debate is, are shifting from red to blue,” Ohio Democratic Party Chairman David Pepper told The Hill. “The path to victory for [former Ohio Gov.] John Kasich, or even Bush against Kerry, that really relied heavily on major margins of victory in the suburbs.” 

Republicans largely dominated House races in Ohio in 2018, holding on to 12 districts Trump carried in 2016. Democrats carried four districts won by presidential nominee Hillary ClintonHillary Diane Rodham ClintonTrump crowd chants 'lock her up' about Omar as president warns of refugees in Minnesota Democrats say Biden survived brutal debate — and that's enough Comey defends FBI Russia probe from GOP criticism MORE in 2016. 

However, there was movement toward Democrats at local levels. 

Westerville, which is split between Franklin and Delaware counties, is a prime example of a once red stronghold trending blue.

Then-President George W. Bush defeated Democratic nominee John KerryJohn Forbes KerryMellman: Do debates matter? President Trump faces Herculean task in first debate Trump, Biden have one debate goal: Don't lose MORE by 23 points in 2004, while Republican nominee Mitt RomneyWillard (Mitt) Mitt RomneyGOP senators pan debate: 'S---show,' 'awful,' 'embarrassment' Romney, Murphy 'extremely concerned' about threats to withdraw from US Embassy in Baghdad Schumer rips Trump, GOP over debate: 'How are you not embarrassed?' MORE defeated then-President Obama in the city by 8 points in 2012. 

But Clinton beat Trump in the city by 4 points in 2016. 

While Democrat Danny O’Connor lost his bid to unseat Ohio Rep. Troy Balderson (R) last year, Democrats point out he was able to win Westerville by 12 points. 

A number of Columbus suburbs also flipped from red to blue in 2018 federal office races, including Upper Arlington, New Albany, Gahanna and Dublin. 

Democratic officials point as well to Hamilton County, which includes Cincinnati, as a Republican stronghold that has turned blue. 

“What we’ve seen again from both the growth in the urban core of Cincinnati, as well as changing attitudes among suburban voters in Hamilton County and Cincinnati, is that this part of the state is trending away from Republicans and it’s helping Democrats gain the kind of coalition that is needed to win statewide in Ohio,” a Democratic National Committee (DNC) official said in a call with reporters on Monday. 

Democrats will still need to turn out more than just urban and suburban voters to win the state. 

Former Ohio state Sen. Nina Turner (D) said Democrats will need to maintain the same messaging throughout the state’s urban centers, suburbs and rural communities. 

“If I'm talking to somebody in Westerville , for example, or Youngstown or my hometown of Cleveland, the message is the same, that the system is rigged against working people like you and that we must do everything in our power to unreel a corrupt system that allows far too few people to have it all and far too many people to barely get by,” Turner told The Hill. 

However, Democrats still face an uphill climb in the Republican dominated state.

While Democrats stress that three-term Sen. Sherrod BrownSherrod Campbell BrownMnuchin says he and Pelosi have agreed to restart coronavirus stimulus talks Harris faces pivotal moment with Supreme Court battle Remote work poses state tax challenges MORE (D-Ohio) was able to defeat former Rep. Jim RenacciJames (Jim) B. RenacciOhio is suddenly a 2020 battleground Democrats fear Ohio slipping further away in 2020 Medicare for All won't deliver what Democrats promise MORE (R-Ohio) by roughly 7 points in 2018, Brown remains Ohio’s only statewide elected Democrat. 

Ohio’s congressional delegation is dominated by Republicans, while Gov. Mike DeWine (R) defeated Democrat Richard CordrayRichard Adams CordrayConsumer bureau revokes payday lending restrictions Supreme Court ruling could unleash new legal challenges to consumer bureau Supreme Court rules consumer bureau director can be fired at will MORE in 2018 after carrying 50 percent of the vote compared to his opponent’s 46.7 percent. 

On top of that, Trump had a successful run in the state in 2016, winning nine counties that previously went for Obama in 2012. 

The president also carried 80 of the state’s 88 counties in 2016, the most won by a presidential candidate since then-President Reagan won 82 of the state’s counties in 1984. 

Republicans, however, are not taking any chances on the state, given that no Republican president in history has won election without Ohio.

A recent Public Policy Polling survey, conducted on behalf of the progressive group Innovation Ohio, shows Trump tied with a number of Democratic presidential front-runners, including Sens. Elizabeth WarrenElizabeth WarrenWarren slams Trump over Proud Boys comments Ocasio-Cortez, Warren pull out of New Yorker Festival amid labor dispute The Hill's Morning Report - Fight night: Trump, Biden hurl insults in nasty debate MORE (D-Mass.) and Bernie SandersBernie SandersDemocrats say Biden survived brutal debate — and that's enough The Hill's Morning Report - Fight night: Trump, Biden hurl insults in nasty debate Trump, Biden clash over health care as debate begins MORE (I-Vt.), in the state, a potential warning sign for the GOP.  The same poll showed former Vice President Joe BidenJoe BidenPrivacy, civil rights groups demand transparency from Amazon on election data breaches Facebook takes down Trump campaign ads tying refugees to coronavirus Trump crowd chants 'lock her up' about Omar as president warns of refugees in Minnesota MORE edging Trump by 2 percentage points. 

“We know the path to the White House runs through Ohio, and the RNC and the Trump campaign, we’re not taking anything for granted,” Mandi Merritt, the Republican National Committee’s (RNC) regional communications director for the Ohio Valley and the Northeast, said in an interview. 

“We have activated over 10,000 volunteers just in a 2018 cycle alone. We made over 5 million voter contacts,” she continued. “Now flash forward to 2020. I mean, the Trump campaign and the RNC are developing the most expansive campaign operation in modern history, and that's including Ohio.” 

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Trump, himself, has also made a number of recent visits to Ohio, underscoring the importance of his political base in the state. 

Last month, he visited a manufacturing facility in Wapakoneta, Ohio, with the Australian prime minister. The town is part of Auglaize County, which Trump won in 2016 with 75 percent of the vote. 

Some Democrats believe they can make inroads with working-class voters that they lost to Trump in 2016, specifically citing General Motors’ shuttered Lordstown plant. 

“In 2016, Trump came to Ohio as sort of the hope of change candidate. He went into Youngstown and said, ‘I'm going to bring back all the manufacturing jobs, I'm going to save Lordstown,’ ” veteran Ohio Democratic strategist Aaron Pickrell said. 

“None of those things have come to fruition. And I think a lot of voters were willing to give Trump a chance, and so far his promises haven't been met,” he continued. 

However, Democrats are also focusing on swing states, like Michigan, Wisconsin and Pennsylvania, that Trump flipped in 2016 and that are now seen potentially as a higher priority. 

“Ohio is a tough state that is seemingly getting tougher for Democrats. It's not, you know, the swing states that Michigan or Wisconsin or Pennsylvania or Florida is,” Justin Barasky, Brown’s campaign manager in 2018, told The Hill. “It is still winnable if you have a candidate that voters believe is authentic and is fighting for them.”