GovernorTed Strickland (D)
SenatorsGeorge Voinovich (R)
Sherrod Brown (D)
- 10 D, 8 R
- 1 through 18
Connecting the East with the great interior, bordering the South yet also on the Great Lakes, Ohio was the first entirely American state. The original 13 states started as British colonies, and the next three, Vermont, Kentucky and Tennessee, were spun off from them. But Ohio sprang Athena-like from the head of Congress, as the first state formed from the Northwest Territory. The Northwest Ordinance of 1787 established 6-mile-square townships, which imposed geometric order on diverse American landscapes west to the Pacific. It set aside one square mile per township for public schools, and the land was soon peppered with schoolhouses and small colleges, the foundation stones of a literate republic. The ordinance prohibited slavery, opening the way for free labor to clear fields, raise crops, and build mills and factories. In less than half a century, the former wilderness was one of the most productive parts of the young country. In the years after the Civil War, Ohio became one of the great industrial states, the original headquarters of John D. Rockefeller’s Standard Oil, the site of major steel mills along the narrow and languidly flowing Cuyahoga and Mahoning rivers, and the location of the biggest soap companies, machine tool makers and tire manufacturers. Dayton was the home of the Wright brothers, who developed the airplane; of James Patterson, the inventor and manufacturer of the cash register; and of Charles Kettering, the inventor of the automobile starter. Akron was the home of Harvey Firestone, B. F. Goodrich and F. A. Seiberling—the great tire manufacturers. Cincinnati was the headquarters of the founders of Procter & Gamble. The state was settled by New Englanders in the northeast (in the Western Reserve) and by Virginians in the south, creating a split between the Southern-accented counties south of the National Road and U.S. 40 and the Northern-accented cities and towns to the north. It was also divided between Butternut and Copperhead territory that didn’t want to fight the Civil War and Yankee territory that fiercely prosecuted the war and Reconstruction afterward.
This split heritage made Ohio politically a closely divided state—and a nationally pivotal one. A little more than a century ago, Ohio produced the candidate and campaign manager who won the presidency in 1896 and 1900: former Gov. William McKinley and iron and coal industrialist Mark Hanna. They inaugurated a 34-year period of Republican national majorities. McKinley’s Republicans were for high tariffs and hard money and had a friendly regard for workers and even some unions, but they had no patience with large unions. They preached a nationalist Americanism tempered by wariness about making major commitments abroad. Republicans were the majority in this increasingly industrial Ohio, losing rural Butternut counties but carrying the big industrial cities of the north.
Then came the Depression of the 1930s, and Ohio became the scene of something like class warfare, with sit-down strikes and victories for the CIO industrial unions in autos, steel and tires. CIO cities (Cleveland, Akron, Youngstown, and Toledo) moved sharply toward the Democrats, while places with fewer union members (Cincinnati, Columbus, the dozens of small factory towns dotting the flat limestone plains of northern Ohio) stayed Republican. The political fighting was fierce, and the stakes were high. CIO leaders hoped to organize the entire workforce and build a Scandinavian-style welfare state. Republican leaders like Ohio’s Sen. Robert Taft feared union control of business would imperil freedoms and throttle the economy. In the 1930s and 1940s, the unions made great gains, but Taft held them off, reducing union power with the Taft-Hartley Act of 1947 and his own re-election to the Senate in 1950.
In the years since, Ohio has oscillated as it’s been courted by national campaigns. It has not voted for the loser in a presidential election since 1960. Democrat Bill Clinton carried the state twice, but by the narrowest of his margins in any large state—40%-38% in 1992, 47%-41% in 1996. And Al Gore lost here 50%-46% in 2000. Ohio Republicans won smashing victories in 1994 and 1998 and held their own in 1996 and 2000. The leading figure was George Voinovich, elected governor in 1990 by 56%-44%, re-elected in 1994 by 72%-25%, by far the biggest margin since 1826, when neither the Republican nor the Democratic party existed. From 1976 to 1994, Ohio was represented by two Democrats in the Senate, but when they retired, they were replaced by Republicans: Mike DeWine and Voinovich, both of whom had run unsuccessfully for the Senate before. In 1998, Republican Bob Taft, bearer of a great Ohio name, was elected governor over Democrat Lee Fisher by 50%-45%. Until that election, Ohio’s governorship had been passed back and forth between the two parties, with neither holding it for more than eight years since Republican George K. Nash won in 1899. Republicans also held every other statewide office, had seemingly impervious margins in both houses of the Legislature, and made up the majority of the U.S. House delegation. Despite the state’s lagging economy, President George W. Bush carried Ohio 51%-49% in 2004, as turnout surged as much as 20% in a state with very little population growth.
Then in 2006 came a great turn toward the Democrats. Unused to having one party in control for more than a decade, Ohio recoiled against the Republicans. It did not help that the supposedly fiscally conservative party had raised taxes several times or that individual Republicans were tarred with scandal. Ohio’s state and local tax burden, rated 45th highest in the nation in 1977 by the Tax Foundation, was rated seventh in 2008, and Republicans had held the governorship for 24 of those 31 years. Gov. Taft pleaded no contest in 2005 to criminal violations for failing to report some $6,000 in gifts. The state Bureau of Workmen’s Compensation, controlled by Republicans, was under investigation for placing $50 million in investments in a rare-coin business run by a major GOP contributor, with $13 million of state assets missing. Democratic U.S. Rep. Ted Strickland, a former minister and prison psychologist, was elected governor by 61%-37% over Secretary of State Ken Blackwell, a Taft critic from the right. Strickland carried 72 of 88 counties; the only major metro area Blackwell carried was his home base of Cincinnati. Democrats won the offices of attorney general, secretary of state and treasurer. Democratic Rep. Sherrod Brown beat two-term GOP Sen. Mike DeWine by a solid 56%-44%. Democrats did not quite sweep the board. Republicans won the race for auditor and two seats on the state Supreme Court, and they held on to majorities in the Legislature.
The Democratic trend continued in 2008. Ohio was once again a target state in the presidential contest, with Republicans hoping that Democratic nominee Barack Obama would be a weak candidate in a state where he had lost the Democratic primary to Hillary Rodham Clinton, carrying only five of 18 congressional districts. Ohio was the scene of many candidate visits. Republican nominee John McCain introduced Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin as his vice presidential nominee in Dayton, and there were intensive organizational efforts on the part of both campaigns. This was the third campaign in a row in which Ohio was a major—arguably, the major—target state, and a certain fatigue may have set in. Turnout was up only marginally from 2004, the lowest increase in the nation. Obama carried the state 52%-47%. Democrats made further gains, winning two open U.S. House seats and seven seats in the state House, giving them majorities of 10-8 in the House delegation and 53-46 in the state House.
The Republican trend of the 1990s and the Democratic trend of 2006-08 occurred in a state that is still more industrial than post-industrial, a state changed by the immigration of the early 20th century but little touched by the immigration of the late 20th century, a state where cultural liberalism has a far smaller constituency than it does on either coast or even in nearby Illinois and Michigan. It used to be said that Ohio was a typical state, a great test market, close to the national average in income levels, urban-rural balance, and ethnic mix, as well as presidential percentages. But economically and culturally, it is different, a template perhaps for Indiana and Missouri but not for Oregon and Arizona. There are few immigrants here, and the population is only 2% Hispanic. In manufacturing jobs, Ohio trails only California and Texas—which have three and two times as many people, respectively—yet it has 500,000 fewer than it did in the peak year, 1969. From 2000 to 2007, it had a lower rate of population growth than any other state except West Virginia, North Dakota, Rhode Island and Louisiana. Ohio economy’s never seemed to recover from the 2001-02 recession. The state has one of the lowest rates of business start-ups in the nation, according to the Kauffman Foundation, and its income levels have languished as first the steel companies, then the auto subcontractors and finally the Detroit Three laid off thousands of workers. Honda decided in 2006 not to build a fourth plant in Ohio but to go to Indiana instead. The state’s encouragement of bioscience and high-tech businesses has not generated nearly as many offsetting jobs. Columbus, the one metro area with significant post-industrial growth, nonetheless seemed threatened by the 2008 crisis in the financial-services markets.
For over half a century, there have been two politically distinct parts of Ohio. Northeast Ohio—centered on Cleveland and extending westward to Toledo and south and east to the factory towns of Akron and Canton, Youngstown and Warren and the gritty industrial cities south along the Ohio River—has been the state’s Democratic heartland, with the highest percentages of union members and a large black population in Cleveland. In 2008, this area remained Democratic, but there was no significant trend toward Obama except in northwest Ohio around Toledo, an area hurt by the troubles of the auto subcontractors and Detroit auto companies. Indeed, in Youngstown, Warren and the Ohio River counties, Obama’s percentages ran behind those of Democratic nominee John Kerry four years earlier, an example, at least in part, of his weakness among voters of Scots-Irish Appalachian origin that was so evident in the Democratic primaries. The other part of Ohio—south and west of the industrial belt and including Columbus, Cincinnati and Dayton—was never as heavily unionized and in national elections has tended to vote Republican, much like most of Indiana. In 2008, in contrast to Indiana, which gave Obama a narrow victory, this area continued to vote Republican, although by lesser margins. Obama carried the counties containing the central cities of Columbus, Cincinnati and Dayton, but ran behind in the latter two metro areas and won only a small lead in metro Columbus.
2008 Presidential Vote
2008 Democratic Presidential Primary
2008 Republican Presidential Primary
From its beginnings, Ohio has been a crucial state in presidential politics, and it has never been more so, with its 20 electoral votes, than in the elections of 2000, 2004 and 2008. Of the large northern states, it has generally been the most Republican, except in 1976, when Jimmy Carter ran well in the Southern-accented counties below U.S. 40 and carried the state by 11,000 votes. (Gerald Ford carried Michigan and Illinois.) No Republican has ever been elected president without carrying Ohio. No Democrat, in today’s electoral-vote arithmetic, can be sure of winning without it.
Even so, the dynamics of the presidential race in Ohio have been quite different in the past three elections. In 2000, Republican George W. Bush, despite holding narrow leads in polls, made Ohio a priority state from start to finish, while the campaign of Democrat Al Gore, looking to opportunities elsewhere, pulled out much of its advertising in mid-October—perhaps its greatest strategic mistake. Bush carried Ohio by only 50%-46%. In 2004, both campaigns recognized that Ohio was a major target state. Job losses, especially in manufacturing, seemed to make the atmosphere especially favorable to Democrats. They and anti-Bush 527 organizations ran a classic industrial-era registration and turnout drive aimed particularly at African-American neighborhoods in central cities and at university communities. By all measures, it was spectacularly successful. The Democratic popular-vote margin increased by 60,000 votes in Cleveland’s Cuyahoga County, and Democratic margins increased as well in the counties containing Columbus, Cincinnati, Akron, Toledo, Lorain, Youngstown and Warren and in a five-county cluster centered on the university town of Athens. But the Bush campaign ran a post-industrial registration and turnout organization in all 88 counties, with some 65,000 volunteers networking with evangelical and Catholic churches, farmers, doctors and community organizations. That gave Bush a lead of 136,000 votes over Kerry in the initial count. When 155,000 provisional ballots were counted, the Bush margin was reduced to 119,000.
In 2008, Ohio was once again a central focus of both campaigns, although Democrat Barack Obama’s lead in polls in states like Virginia and Colorado that Bush had won in 2004 made it seem less crucial. Yet the intense organizational efforts of both campaigns were only barely enough to match the turnout that the organizational efforts of 2004 had produced. Barack Obama carried the state 52%-47%, winning 198,879 more votes than John Kerry had. Republican John McCain got 181,944 fewer votes than Bush, suggesting a decline in Republican turnout and an increase in Democratic turnout compared to 2004. Obama carried union-household voters by about the same margin as Kerry had, but he also narrowly won voters in nonunion households. Republican John McCain won small margins from both Catholics and Protestants, but not enough to overcome the big Obama margins among those registering no religion. Young voters went 61% for Obama, providing about two-thirds of his popular-vote margin. Those with graduate-school degrees preferred Obama 54%-44%, a margin much lower than he won among those voters in coastal states.
In 1996, Ohio switched its presidential primary from May to March and voted on the same day as Illinois, Michigan and Wisconsin. But even then, just four weeks after New Hampshire, the race was already over. For the 2000 election, the state Legislature voted to move the date to March 7, and Ohio was seriously contested. Bush and Gore won overwhelming victories as they clinched their parties’ nominations. In 2004, Ohio held its primary on March 2, with seven other states; John Kerry won easily here and elsewhere and clinched the Democratic nomination exactly nine months before the general election.
In 2008, the Republican contest was effectively over on March 4, when Ohio voted. Mike Huckabee remained an active candidate, but McCain beat him 60%-31%, carrying all 88 counties. In contrast, there was a spirited contest on the Democratic side. Fresh from a series of stunning victories in February, Obama hoped to end Hillary Rodham Clinton’s candidacy by beating her in Ohio and Texas. But Clinton, casting herself as a fighter for working families, rallied and won an impressive 53%-45% victory here, which, with a narrower win in Texas, kept her in the race for three more months. Obama carried only five counties, including the central cities of Cleveland, Columbus, Cincinnati and Dayton, and he carried only five of 18 congressional districts. He was particularly weak in white working-class areas—the west side of Cleveland and its close-in suburbs, the Mahoning Valley steel country around Youngstown and Warren, and the Democratic-leaning small industrial counties along the Ohio River. Clinton got as much as 80% of the vote in some counties, evidence of Obama’s weakness in Appalachia. That weakness showed up, in muted form, in the general election, when Obama ran behind John Kerry’s percentages in many of the same areas—not enough to prevent him from carrying Ohio, but enough to prevent him from making the major gains from previous Democratic showings that he did in states like Virginia, North Carolina and Indiana.
|111th Congress: 10 D, 8 R|
Ohio lost one House seat in the 2000 census and now has a House delegation of 18 members, its smallest since the 1820s. In 2001, Republicans had majorities in the Legislature and held the governorship, and so had control of the process. It was clear that the Republicans could eliminate the seat of 13th District Democratic Rep. Sherrod Brown and imperil the chances of 6th District Democratic Rep. Ted Strickland. But Strickland threatened to run in the 18th District against Republican Rep. Bob Ney, and Brown made it clear that if his seat was eliminated, he would run for governor. Republican Gov. Taft did not want to face a well-financed and politically adept challenger and asked Republican legislators not to target Brown.
The Legislature did not act in 2001, and in 2002 the Republicans effectively lost control, since under Ohio law a statute passed that close to the February 21 filing deadline could take immediate effect only if it had a two-thirds vote in both houses. This meant the Republicans had to get the votes of at least one Democrat in the Senate and seven in the House. Given the circumstances, the Republicans constructed a pretty ingenious plan. All 11 Republican incumbents got districts very similar to their current ones, as did the two Cleveland Democrats. Every other Democrat got a significantly different district. The incumbent put into the most parlous position was the 17th District’s Jim Traficant, a Democrat. But he was facing trial on bribery charges and had been voting with Republicans on many issues; Democrats obviously preferred to sacrifice him. The 3rd District was made significantly more Republican, but incumbent Democrat Tony Hall had long run far ahead of party lines, so as long as he continued to run, the seat seemed safely Democratic. The 14th District’s Tom Sawyer was given much of Traficant’s old territory. Strickland was given a district that was much more Democratic than his previous one, and Brown was left alone. So the Democrats made a deal. They would provide the votes to allow the plan to go into effect immediately and avoid having to reschedule the congressional primary for August or September at a cost to taxpayers of $7 million. The plan passed on January 22.
The 3rd district seat turned Republican after Democratic incumbent Hall left the House in 2002. Strickland and Brown were re-elected twice and then were elected governor and senator in 2006. Also that year, Republicans lost scandal-plagued Bob Ney’s seat. In 2008, Democrats won seats in the 1st, 15th and 16th districts. So a House delegation that had been 12-6 Republican immediately after redistricting had become 10-8 Democratic six years later.
Ohio is expected to lose two seats in the reapportionment following the 2010 census. In early 2009, the odds appeared to favor another bipartisan plan. Democratic Gov. Strickland had a high job rating, and Democrats held a majority in the state House, but they would have to capture a net five seats in the state Senate in 2010 to overcome the Republicans’ 21-12 advantage there. A bipartisan plan would presumably cost each party a seat, and there would likely be an incentive to strengthen incumbents of both parties.