The road to the White House still goes through Ohio

President TrumpDonald John TrumpEsper sidesteps question on whether he aligns more with Mattis or Trump Warren embraces Thiel label: 'Good' As tensions escalate, US must intensify pressure on Iran and the IAEA MORE and upstart Democratic candidate Beto O’Rourke recently swept through Ohio within days of each other. More 2020 presidential hopefuls are on their way to the Buckeye State, with Kamala HarrisKamala Devi HarrisHarris slams DOJ decision not to charge police in Eric Garner's death Harris vows to 'put people over profit' in prescription drug plan The Hill's Morning Report - Presented by JUUL Labs - House to vote to condemn Trump tweet MORE slated for a county party dinner in April. 

As D.C.’s chattering class continues its handwringing about Ohio’s demise as a competitive presidential state, the president, vice president or their surrogates seem to show up in Ohio every week, with Trump himself visiting 10 times since his election. Trump’s super PAC is already up on TV. Moreover, Ohio never appears to be far from Trump’s mind as we saw recently when he launched a Twitter assault on a local United Auto Workers president, faulting him for the General Motors plant closure in Lordstown.

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Democrats cannot cede Ohio to Trump. In fact, those trying to beat Trump in 2020 should realize that an investment in Ohio will not only help win the state, but will also force Trump to double down on his commitment here and spread his resources thin. 

Since Trump was sworn into office, his approval rating in Ohio has dropped by 19 points. According to the same tracking poll, his net approval in Ohio now stands at -5, lower than Florida, Georgia, Texas and North Carolina. Another recent poll shows that Ohioans would prefer a Democratic candidate over Trump by a 13 point margin. The poll also shows intense opposition to Trump eclipsing support from his base, with three times as many Ohioans saying they “strongly disapprove” of Trump’s job performance than those who “strongly approve.”

The University of Virginia Center for Politics’ Sabato’s Crystal Ball, a political analysis site, currently lumps Ohio in with the likes of Florida and Georgia as a “Lean Republican” state for 2020. To equate the chances of the future Democratic nominee in the Buckeye State and the Sunshine State is a well-founded comparison.

What sets Ohio apart from other newcomers to the battleground conversation, however, are decades of competitive presidential races in Ohio that have bred a powerful, well-organized progressive infrastructure of political professionals and systems. Every dollar invested into winning Ohio in 2020 goes further, as it can be plugged into the existing infrastructure of organized labor and organizations including Planned Parenthood, Conservation Ohio and others. Years of this work has nurtured a system of coordination that is necessary for maximum impact and that can’t happen within just one or two election cycles. 

Taking state comparisons a step further, let’s look at Arizona, which has been deemed a “toss up” by multiple well-respected political pollsters. While Democratic Ohio gubernatorial candidate Richard CordrayRichard Adams CordrayWatchdog agency must pick a side: Consumers or scammers Kraninger's CFPB gives consumers the tools to help themselves House rebukes Mulvaney's efforts to rein in consumer bureau MORE lost by 3.6 points, his Arizona counterpart lost by 14. Sen. Sherrod BrownSherrod Campbell BrownDemocrat Sherrod Brown torches Facebook at hearing: 'They broke journalism, helped incite a genocide' Trump puts hopes for Fed revolution on unconventional candidate Budowsky: Harris attacked Biden, helped Trump MORE of Ohio ran well ahead of Sen. Kyrsten Sinema of Arizona. The reality is, Democrats can win back Ohio’s 18 electoral votes for the first time since 2012 and Arizona’s 11 electoral votes for the first time since 1996. A winning Democratic campaign and aligned effort will cede neither. 

Last year, Brown recaptured several Trump counties in Ohio and garnered a larger percentage of the vote than Trump did in 2016 — showing that with the right message, a Democrat can win in Ohio. Brown’s continued electoral success provides a guiding light and a tested playbook on how to talk to heartland voters. As a profile of Brown in The Washington Post stated, “There’s an obvious lesson here. In 2020, Democrats can advocate left-wing economic programs and win in key Midwestern states like Ohio.”

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In addition to a positive path forward, Ohio is ground zero for Trump’s failure on one of his most high-profile campaign promises: bringing back manufacturing jobs. When General Motors announced its Lordstown plant closure — and with it the loss of 1,600 jobs — it cited Trump’s tariffs on steel and aluminum. Furthermore, the tax law Trump pushed through Congress has taken fire for its role in the closure of the GM plant by incentivizing offshoring of American jobs.

Ohioans are waking up to Trump’s broken economic promises and to what Brown dubbed Trump’s “phony populism.” Trump knows that the road to the White House still runs through Ohio. He will never cede ground here. If Democrats do, they are walking into Election Day 18 electoral votes down. Instead, they must fight back, seize the opportunity, and take back Ohio and the White House  

Daniel van Hoogstraten is the communications director of For Our Future Ohio (FOF-OH), a progressive statewide coalition organization. FOF-OH’s founding partners are the AFL-CIO, National Education Association, AFSCME, American Federation of Teachers, and NextGen America.