By Joshua Sunman, Flinders Bachelor of Arts (American Studies/Politics) student and Washington Intern.
Always a crucial state in Presidential Elections, Ohio has several key races in 2018. On a state-wide level, the race to replace the term-limited John Kasich as Governor is tight. Polls in the race between the two candidates have been consistently close, with both candidates alternating the lead. Both Candidates have long political CVs,’ with both Democrat Richard Cordray and Republican Mike DeWine having executive and legislative experience. This race takes on particular importance due to the gerrymandered nature of Ohio’s House Districts. Currently, these districts favour Republicans who hold nine Districts by comfortable, but not overwhelming margins. Democrats meanwhile are disadvantaged, holding four districts by huge majorities. Congressional Districts will be redrawn following the 2020 United States Census. Whilst this is the responsibility of the 20-22 State Legislature, the Governor retains a veto over proposals. A DeWine victory would all but ensure the Republican advantage remains, whereas a Cordray victory could lead to radically different House Delegations from Ohio going forward from 2022.
By contrast, in a year where Democrats are defending 10 seats in states carried by Donald Trump, Ohio included, the incumbent Democratic Senator Sherrod Brown appears to be coasting to victory. Despite unsubstantiated allegations of sexual assault being made against the Senator by his Republican opponent, Congressman Jim Renacci, Brown appears to have a 15-20 point lead in most published polls. This accords with a wider mid-western trend in 2018 which sees other Democratic incumbents in Michigan, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin headed for comfortable victories. This trend suggests that these states showed particularly support for President Trump, but that Democrats retain a generic state-wide advantage. As such, apart from the crucial race in Indiana, the Senate will not be decided in the Industrial mid-west.
Despite a weak performance from Democratic Presidential Nominee Hillary Clinton in even traditionally Democratic areas of the state, all incumbent Democratic House Members from Ohio (3rd, 9th, 11th, 13th districts) look set to be returned easily. On the Republican side, there are a couple of vulnerabilities, although no seats are particularly likely to flip. The 1st and 2nd Districts which in 2016 voted 60% and 65% Republican respectively, both appear to have tightened in this cycle. Both districts encompass parts of Cincinnati and meander into the surrounding countryside, which ensures a Republican advantage in districts that on a more intuitive drawing would be highly competitive. However, despite a tightening it still appears likely the Republican incumbents will prevail with somewhat comfortable margins.
Moving from the south-west corner to the north-east, Ohio’s 14th and 16th districts also have competitive potential. The 14th district runs from Northern Akron (An industrial town in the north-west), taking in a portion of Cleveland’s suburbs, before running along Lake Erie to the Pensylvanian Border. The 16th district meanwhile splits Akron with the Democratic 13th held by Tim Ryan, sprawling south to take in Rural communities (including Amish country- which was well worth a visit!), and snaking north to take in parts of Cleveland’s suburbia. Like the Cincinnati districts, whilst these have tightened (particularly the 16th where Renacci has retired to contest the senate), neither are particularly likely to flip. It is important to note, that a less contrived construction of these districts would see them, and Ryan’s 13th, become highly competitive.
Perhaps the most likely district to flip is the 12th, which sprawls from north-eastern Columbus into surrounding rural areas. A traditionally Republican district, this seat played host to a highly competitive special election in August 2018. The Republican candidate Troy Balderson prevailed over Democrat, Danny O’Connor, by a wafer thin margin of 50.1%-49.3%, or 1,680 votes. Whilst history would suggest seats which do not fall to an opposition in a Special Election are unlikely to do so in a General, Democrats would put stock in highly competitive polling, Democratic enthusiasm (in particular for Sherrod Brown), and a close Governor’s race, to promote turnout and give them a second chance to flip the seat.
So whilst Ohio has several competitive, and hyper competitive races, it is unlikely to be where the House or the Senate is decided. Big Blue states such as California, New York and the neighbouring swing-state of Pennsylvania will likely decide the House, whilst the senate hinges on the south-west, and embattled Democrats scattered across the union such as Heidi Heitkamp (ND) and Bill Nelson (FL). Pennsylvania, having newly implemented court ordered boundaries provides an interesting comparison to Ohio, showing that if partisan gerrymandering is disrupted, previously uncompetitive House seats can become hugely contested and influential. So whilst Ohio will not determine the House in 2018, from 2022 onwards it may be decisive.
Whether or not the Democrats win the House, Ohio’s house delegation could play an important role in the aftermath. Should Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi lose the faith of her caucus, it is possible her previous challenger Congressman Tim Ryan could mount another challenge, in which case, he’ll certainly be hoping for a blue wave to bolster Ohio Democrats’ numbers.
‘Ohio may change the way congressional lines are drawn’, Dayton Daily News, 28 January 2017. Available at: <https://www.mydaytondailynews.com/news/state–regional-govt–politics/ohio-may-change-the-way-congressional-lines-are-drawn/ejjUmHqcz3nORkC3yEI6uJ/> Last Accessed [2/11/18].
Contributor Summary: Josh is currently entering his final semester of a Bachelor of Arts (American Studies/Politics). He undertook the Washington Internship Program in 2017, with the Office of Congressman Tim Ryan (D OH-13). Josh wrote his Internship Paper on the dramatic political shifts in the industrial mid-west in 2016, their permanency, and repercussions for U.S. politics. He is looking to undertake Honours in 2019, with a particular interest in electoral boundaries, and their effects on electoral outcomes.