Ohio’s Red Leap

By Jim Ellis

Jan. 30, 2018 — Thought of as one of the key swing states in American politics since the turn of the century, President Trump’s stronger than expected eight-point Buckeye State victory in the 2016 presidential race proved eye-opening. But, was his performance trend setting or an anomaly?

A new Fallon Group survey for the state’s 1984 Society group finds the upcoming open governor’s race is exceeding the Trump marker, at least in the early going. Such totals indicate that the presidential outcome could be signaling a more Republican-oriented direction beginning to form in the state, but a closer look may point to the Trump numbers as affirming a political trend rather than creating one.

Left - Mike Dewine (R) | Right - Richard Cordray (D)

Left – Mike Dewine (R) | Right – Richard Cordray (D)

According to the Fallon Group data (Jan. 16-19: 801 likely Ohio general election voters; 286 Ohio Republican likely primary voters, 248 Ohio likely Democratic primary voters), attorney general and former US senator, Mike DeWine (R), would lead recently resigned Federal Consumer Protection Bureau director and ex-Ohio attorney general Richard Cordray (D) by a whopping 48-29 percent margin. The polling demographics appear to correctly model the state, thus providing reliability support. In the polling sample, Anglo voters account for 77.4 percent of the respondents, as compared to 79.5 percent of the state population. African Americans are 14.2 percent of the polling universe, and 12.8 percent of the actual Ohio population. Hispanics register 2.2 percent of the respondent group, against a 3.7 percent state population figure. Therefore, the respondent universe is consistent with at least the overall Ohio population complexion. Additionally, the polling universe is comprised of 51.9 percent females, versus a 51.0 percent actual make-up.

The Republican leadership approval ratings are mixed. The respondents believe, by a margin of 54:25 percent, that Ohio is generally on the right track. Outgoing Gov. John Kasich’s (R) job performance is rated highly: a 57:29 percent favorability ratio. President Trump, on the other hand, is upside-down at 43:52 percent positive to negative.

Though the poll’s primary findings are interesting for each party, the projections must be considered unreliable. The 286 and 248 cell sizes drawn to answer the Republican and Democratic-specific questions are too small to generate mathematically sound conclusions, but the results still appear plausible.

For the Democrats, Cordray and his designated running mate, former US Rep. Betty Sutton, would lead ex-congressman and Cleveland Mayor Dennis Kucinich and his choice for lieutenant governor, Akron City Councilwoman Tara Mosely Samples, by only a 23-16 percent margin. The other candidates, state senator and former minority leader Joe Schiavoni (D-Mahoning Valley), ex-Ohio Supreme Court Justice Bill O’Neill, and former Cincinnati state Rep. Connie Pillich, all poll under five percent support.

For the Republicans, DeWine and his pick for lieutenant governor, secretary of state and former gubernatorial candidate Jon Husted, are jumping out to a landslide 54-14 percent spread over Lt. Gov. Mary Taylor and her running mate, ex-Reagan White House aide Nathan Estruth.

This latter number is believable because Taylor has so far failed to generate much in the way of financial support. She is now trying to put distance between herself and Gov. Kasich, despite his strong ratings and that he chose her for the position she now holds. She furthermore claimed in an interview that Kasich had “endorsed” DeWine, when he had publicly expressed his open support for Taylor months ago. Unless the Taylor-Estruth Campaign substantially improves, the DeWine-Husted ticket will have an easy run in the May 8 Republican primary.

But the Trump numbers and this first major statewide gubernatorial poll actually appear to be confirming a developed trend rather than changing voting patterns. While Ohio has clearly bounced around in the presidential race since the 2000 election, the underlying races have been much more solidly Republican.

After Democrat Ted Strickland won the governorship in 2006, Kasich ousted him four years later and expanded Republican control of the state legislature’s House and Senate chambers. This was cemented with the governor’s 64-33 percent re-election landslide in 2010, thus leading to today’s 24R-9D and 66R-33D partisan division in the Ohio Senate and House, respectively. Additionally, the congressional delegation breaks 12R-4D, and each party controls one US Senate seat.

The Ohio governor’s race, already critically important from a national redistricting perspective, grows to an even greater degree because of the strong potential that the Pennsylvania map will be re-drawn before the 2018 election. With Democratic gains in the Keystone State likely, the Ohio redistricting position becomes even more crucial.

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