Ohio, We Have a Problem

“If it wasn’t for Ohio John Kerry would be president.” How many times have we heard that, even more than a year later? I recently did an analysis of Dem and GOP vote percent totals dating back to 1944. The good news: only a couple of democrat candidates actually got a higher percent of the Ohio vote than Kerry got. The bad news: only a couple of democrat candidates actually got a higher percent of the Ohio vote than Kerry got.

Here are the Ohio popular vote totals from 1944 to 2004:
Year GOP Dem Ind.
1944 50.2% 49.8%
1948 49.2% 49.5% 1.3% H. Wallace
1952 56.8% 43.2%
1956 61.1% 38.9%
1960 53.3% 46.7%
1964 37.1% 62.9%
1968 45.2% 42.9% 11.8% G. Wallace
1972 59.6% 38.1%
1976 48.7% 48.9% 2.3% Eugene McCarthy
1980 51.5% 40.9% 5.9% Anderson
1984 58.9% 40.1%
1988 55.0% 44.1%
1992 38.3% 40.2% 21.5% Perot
1996 41.6% 47.7% 10.7% Perot
2000 50.0% 46.4% 2.5% Nader
2004 50.8% 48.7% 0.5% Other

More disappointing, Ohio had two Democrat Senators, or at least one, since the 1940s. But since 1998 they’ve both been Republicans. The governorship in Ohio has been in GOP hands since 1990. A majority of Ohio Congressmen and both houses of the state legislature have been in GOP hands for over a decade. So how can Dems in Ohio rebound?

Ohio is not a right to work state and has a long history of pro-union economic progressivism, as well as populism. On the other hand it is the most culturally traditional of the swing states outside the South. As Roy Teixiera wrote in early 2004 about a recent Pew Poll: “Heavily unionized Ohio (37 percent of voters are in union households, including 35 percent of white voters) has lost one-sixth of its manufacturing jobs since Bush took office, including a stunning 81,000 since November 2001, the official beginning of the current economic recovery. Can Democrats win this state without a strong populist critique of the Bush administration’s economic record? I doubt it.”

“On the other hand, Ohio, according to a recent Pew Research Center report, is still one of the more traditional states in the country on social issues. And about half of white voters there own a gun and tend to be suspicious of Democrats’ views on gun control. That means the kind of “values centrism” advocated by New Democrats also has a place in the campaign toolbox in Ohio. Sure, Democrats have to support bedrock principles like a woman’s right to choose, but, in a state like Ohio, that support has to be framed in moral terms these voters can understand (“safe, legal and rare”) and combined with moderate stances on issues like gun control (think “gun safety”).”

Outside of LBJ in the Democratic landslide year of 1964, only 3 Democrats in the last 60 years have done better than Kerry: 1976 Carter (+0.2% greater) 1948 Truman (+0.8 greater) and FDR (who lost the state) in 1944 (+1.1% greater). Ironically, it was only FDR’s greater margin of 1.1% that if it were added on to Kerry’s total and subtracted from Bush’s, would lead to a Kerry win: 49.8% to 49.7%. Add .2% or .8% and Kerry still comes up short. On the other hand, Dems nearly won a Congressional seat in a GOP district just last this year, while Gov. Taft has an approval rating in the low 20s!

So where do we go from here? Ohio was the only Midwest state with a large urban and suburban population that Kerry lost (other than Missouri). The others Midwest states with large urban and suburban areas were Kerry victories (Illinois, Minnesota, Michigan, Wisconsin).

The other Midwestern states (ND, SD, Neb. Kansas, Oklahoma, Indiana, and West Va,) are all predominantly rural states that have voted conservative pretty reliably for over a century-except for Iowa and West Virginia which are swing states and mostly small town. Simply put, bring Ohio and Missouri into the Dem column and we have an electoral majortity and them some.

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About Nick

Teacher of Social Studies. Born in the 1970s. History major, music minor. Big Baseball fan. Economic progressive.
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