Open Senate seats do not come along very often. Rob Portman’s retirement is a chance for Democrats to take stock of their long-term competitiveness.
Biden aims to sell economic agenda on Ohio trip
President Joe Biden aims to rev up support for his economic agenda during a visit to Cincinnati union training center on Wednesday. The trip comes as the fate of Biden’s infrastructure proposal remains unclear. (July 21)
For more than a century, Ohio has been considered a bellwether state. Its voters have sided with the winning presidential ticket in all but two elections from 1896 to 2016. Yet, after two victories by Barack Obama in 2008 and 2012, the 2016 outcome suggested Ohio was moving from purple to red – as the state voted 5 points to the right of the rest of the country.
Republicans have held control of all statewide offices for a decade and maintain large majorities in the state legislature. A poor showing among Democrats in Ohio in 2018 in an otherwise strong midterm and another convincing Donald Trump victory in 2020 suggest the state is no longer competitive for Democrats. And yet, Joe Biden just made his third trip to Ohio since becoming president Jan. 20.
Biden didn’t do any better against Trump in 2020 than Hillary Clinton did in 2016; both Democrats lost Ohio by 8 points. Republicans comfortably won every statewide office – even though the Republican speaker of the Ohio House, Larry Householder, was arrested a few months before the election. In July of 2020, Householder and four others were charged with taking $60 million in bribes for a bailout of the nuclear power industry in the state. Last month, the Ohio House of Representatives took the dramatic step of expelling him.
Looking for signs of doom or hope
So why is Biden spending so much time in a state that seems to be so far out of reach for Democrats? The answer lies in the 2022 midterms. Open Senate seats do not come along very often, and Republican Rob Portman’s retirement presents an opportunity for Democrats to take stock of their long-term competitiveness in the state.
Tough Republican primaries for the party’s Senate and gubernatorial nominations provide the slimmest of openings for a successful Democratic comeback. Ultimately, 2022 will signal to Democrats whether they have a future in the state. It’s sink or swim, and Biden knows it.
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Biden visited a union training center in Cincinnati and discussed his economic recovery efforts at a CNN town hall, where he gave an upbeat response to a question about inflation. “We’re going to be providing good opportunities and jobs for people who, in fact, are going to be reinvesting that money back in all the things we’re talking about, driving down prices, not raising prices,” he said.
The economic focus reflects the 2020 post-mortem provided by Democrat Marcy Kaptur, the longest-serving female ever in the U.S. House of Representatives and who represents towns and auto industry factories along the Lake Erie coastline from Cleveland to Toledo. Kaptur criticized national Democrats for focusing too much on identity politics while losing ground on the economic issues that drive voting decisions for many in the state.
It would appear that Ohio Democrats got the memo. Both Rep. Tim Ryan, a Senate candidate, and Dayton Mayor Nan Whaley, a gubernatorial candidate, have been hammering economic populism in the mold of Sen. Sherrod Brown. Brown’s 2018 reelection was among the few bright spots for Democrats in the state. We can expect to see Ryan and Whaley focus on jobs and health care, while trying to localize issues to Ohio and separate themselves from some of the more controversial…