CINCINNATI — Complications pummeled Ohio Republicans last week as they sought to put up a united front headed into the GOP’s national convention.
One of their best-known politicians threw his support behind Democrat Joe Biden, their Republican state attorney general challenged the Trump administration, and the president took on an iconic Ohio company in an area of the state where loyalties to job security ran higher than to party four years ago.
With early voting set to begin in less than seven weeks, Democrats are enthused about their possibilities in a state crucial to Trump, one he carried by 8 points over Hillary Clinton in 2016. It’s a striking turnaround for a party that just last year was wondering if the one-time swing state had moved out of its reach.
Democrats have seen progress since Trump faced Clinton in the 2018 mid-term voting and 2019 local elections, including in key suburban areas. Trump’s call Wednesday to boycott Akron-based Goodyear Tire while inaccurately claiming the company had announced a ban of MAGA hats gives the party new material as it tries to return struggling blue-collar workers to the fold who Trump did surprisingly well with in 2016.
Jane Timkin, the Republican Party chairwoman who ousted an ally of former Gov. John Kasich for that job, was dismissive of Kasich’s speech endorsing Biden at the DNC and expects momentum to build for Trump.
“I feel pretty good,” she told The Associated Press. “The president has a 95% approval rating among Republicans and, aside from folks like John Kasich, who was a never-Trumper, I think the rest of the party is very united and excited about re-electing President Trump.” A June 28 Quinnipiac University poll placed the figure at 92% among Ohio registered voters, with 93% of Democrats favoring Biden and independents divided 44% for Trump and 40% for Biden.
Kyle Kondik, an analyst at the University of Virginia Center for Politics who wrote the 2016 book about Ohio presidential politics “The Bellwether,” said it remains to be seen whether Kasich will sway fellow Republicans. Kasich carried Ohio over Trump in 2016, but his presidential primary challenge soon ran out of steam.
“I think Kasich represents a lot of his friends and neighbors (in suburban Columbus) who probably feel the same way he does,” Kondik said. “They’ve just seen enough.”
Kondik also said it’s too soon to predict whether Trump’s assault on Goodyear Tire & Rubber, an integral part of Akron’s “Rubber Capital” history, will cost him among northeast Ohio auto industry voters who backed Trump in 2016. Four years ago, a single remark by Clinton — that the transition to clean energy meant “we’re going to put a lot of coal miners and coal companies out of business” — damaged her performance in Ohio’s coal country in eastern Ohio where she had been running well.
Even Akron’s most famous native, LeBron James, jumped in: “Unbelievable brand and unbelievable history,” he said at the NBA’s pandemic home in Lake Buena Vista, Florida.
U.S. Rep. Tim Ryan, a Democrat from Youngstown, helped lead a rally in Akron the next day joined by local and union officials and a crowd of workers holding up such signs as “It will be a Goodyear without Trump.” He said with working families struggling during the pandemic-pounded economy, “We have enough challenges.”
“I’ve never seen anything like this,” said Bill Conner, a United Steelworkers union local official in Akron, saying Trump’s boycott call could hurt “an American company, American workers.”
Kondik commented, though, that such controversies seem to bounce off Trump like, well, rubber.
“So many things happen on a day-to-day basis that you think might move voters, and they really don’t,” Kondik said.
Timkin brushed it off, saying the president was “calling out a policy” over free speech concerns.
She also called “Democrat-manufactured” the uproar over Trump’s mail policy, which drew a letter from Republican Attorney General Dave Yost to Trump warning that “radical changes” would “place the solvency of the Post Office above the legitimacy of the Government itself.”
And she doesn’t think the bribery scandal that led to federal charges this summer against then-Ohio Republican Speaker of the House Larry Householder will resonate with voters Nov. 3.
Kondik thinks Trump is still favored to win Ohio, but faces a “significantly closer” race than before. Democrats note even without winning Ohio, they are forcing Trump to use resources and time that could have gone to other battlegrounds to defend it.
Carr Smyth reported from Columbus. Associated Press writer John Seewer in Toledo, Ohio, and AP Basketball Writer Brian Mahoney in Lake Buena Vista, Florida, contributed to this report.
Follow Dan Sewell at twitter.com/dansewell and Julie Carr Smyth at twitter.com/jcarrsmyth.