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Ohio Democratic Party Leader Evaluates State Losses In 2016 Election

Jo Ingles (Ohio Public Radio)

Democratic Presidential nominee Hillary Clinton’s loss to Republican President elect Donald Trump wasn’t the only blistering defeat for Ohio’s Democratic Party. The state Legislature, which was already Republican dominated, became even redder and it's left the leader of the Ohio Democratic Party evaluating the losses and where the party goes from here.

Clinton’s loss was devastating, according to Ohio Democratic Party Chairman David Pepper who said, “What we saw was a tidal wave that was far bigger than Ohio.”

While that tidal wave rolled across the nation, there were ripples in Ohio that suggested a problem for Democrats early on. Pepper says he noticed that the turnout was coming in lower than it was in 2012.

“You win or lose elections in swing states by turnout and the turnout was low in places that hurt us. And it wasn’t even that high for Donald Trump. I think some of what we saw, and this happens when races are very negative, a lot of people stayed home. And I think maybe the entire negative nature of the campaign, the worst, most negative campaign we’ve ever seen, might have just people from showing up because they were sick of it all.”

But the turnout was just part of the story. Clinton got 63,000 fewer votes in Cuyahoga County than Obama did in 2012, 10,000 fewer in Franklin County and 12,000 fewer in Hamilton County. And Pepper said she didn’t win big enough in those big counties to compensate for losses elsewhere.

“You can win Ohio without winning a quarter of the counties but you can’t win it without a quarter of the counties but you can’t win it on just six or seven. You know, the turnout was just down and she lost in swing counties and she didn’t win enough in the big, blue counties. So you add it all up and you just aren’t going to win if that’s the case.”

Clinton lost in ten counties that President Obama won in 2012. And in rural Appalachian counties, Clinton’s losses were sometimes staggering. For instance, she only got 30% of the vote in Pike County, a county that Obama lost by only one vote in 2012. And Montgomery County, where Dayton is, voted Republican for the first time in 28 years. And the presidential race wasn’t the only bad news for Democrats. The GOP dominated legislature became even more Republican as the party’s candidates won one more seat in the House and Senate in areas where Democrats had been serving.

“A Statehouse candidate on a ticket is basically going to sink or swim, unless it’s a close race, with the top of the ticket. And if there’s a wave like this, they can work really, really hard and except for in certain places in the state, it’s just very hard for them to withstand them and I feel very bad for them.”

Pepper says the party will do some soul searching to figure out whether its message or its campaign efforts or both were to blame. Still, he says he sees some good news for Democrats in the future because of this massive Republican win.

“This does shift, in many ways, the environment for 2018. The presumption is usually in the midterm, you do better if you are not in power and I think Sherrod Brown is someone who will stand up against some of Donald Trump’s unattractive ideas. And I think keeping that balance is something Ohioans traditionally want to do. So I actually think we’ve got time to learn from this, fix the turnout operation, to get a better message so that when 2018 comes along, we will be better prepared.”

In the meantime, lawmakers are preparing for the lame duck session of the Ohio legislature where bills involving unemployment compensation, abortion and energy standards are likely to spark controversy with Democrats.