COLUMBUS (AP) — Ohio Democrats can’t worry right now about how to turn Ohio blue. First, they have to figure out how to get it back to purple in a state where President Donald Trump is a force for Republicans.
Republicans on Tuesday again swept the races for governor and four other state offices. That’s the third-straight election they’ve done that, and notably this year, all five of the offices were open.
They couldn’t topple the Democratic colossus in the state, Sen. Sherrod Brown, who handily won his third term and the 16th of his 17 elections starting in 1974. Democratic candidates also won two Supreme Court seats, with one going to Melody Stewart, the first female black judge elected to the state’s highest court.
The GOP kept its 12-4 majority in the U.S. House delegation, and retains control of the state Senate and House. Trump on Wednesday cited Ohio and Mike DeWine’s victory in the governor’s race as among Tuesday’s highlights.
Ohio Democratic Party Chairman David Pepper said the overall results were “very disappointing,” especially after Democrats ran good races and saw strong turnout.
“What we also saw was the Trump factor,” Pepper told reporters. “It’s clear that Donald Trump also inspired his supporters in rural areas to show up.”
“Ohio is fundamentally, in off presidential years, a red state,” said Mike Dawson, who runs a website devoted to tracking Ohio election results.
DeWine, the Republican attorney general and a former U.S. senator, defeated Democrat Richard Cordray. With all precincts reported, unofficial results showed DeWine had nearly 51 percent of the vote to 46 percent for the former Consumer Financial Protection Bureau chief. Third-party candidates took about 3 percent of the vote.
GOP candidates also won races for attorney general, auditor, secretary of state and treasurer.
Voters soundly defeated a measure that would have classified possession of certain types of illegal drugs as misdemeanors.
DeWine said Wednesday that his “gut instincts” as he campaigned around the state told him he was ahead of Cordray, but he tempered his expectations because “poll after poll after poll showed us pretty much dead even.”
“The fact that we won by the margin we did was a surprise,” he said at an event announcing his transition director, communications director and director of children’s initiatives.
The traditional Democratic formula of winning big in the state’s largest urban areas and staying close in swing counties hasn’t been working out lately.
DeWine and Husted held Cordray to less than 60 percent of the vote in urban counties containing Cleveland, Columbus, Cincinnati, Toledo and Dayton and beat him by 18 points in those cities’ suburbs. Cordray won about 59 percent of the vote in Ohio’s six most populous counties, while DeWine scored 60 percent of the vote across the rest of the state.
Democrats still have a big disadvantage with white voters in Ohio’s small towns and rural places. Those voters backed DeWine by about 2 to 1, according to VoteCast.
Losing Montgomery County is nearly always a bad sign for Democrats, and DeWine carried the Dayton area county that neighbors his home county of Greene. Husted also has Dayton ties, from attending the University of Dayton and then representing the area in the Statehouse.
Cordray did better than Hillary Clinton in 2016 in the Mahoning Valley area that includes Youngstown, winning Trumbull County after Trump carried it. But many blue-collar Democrats who crossed over for Trump are continuing to vote Republican. Vote totals from the last close governor’s race, when current Gov. John Kasich unseated Democrat Ted Strickland in 2010, underscore GOP gains.
Strickland won 62 percent of the vote in Trumbull County, compared to 51 percent for Cordray, and 66 percent in Mahoning County, compared to 55 percent for Cordray.
The AP’s VoteCast survey showed DeWine’s victory reflected a strong showing among men, older voters and people in small towns and rural areas. Cordray only managed to split the vote with DeWine among women and had just a slight edge with voters under age 45. But older voters outnumbered younger voters.