After a long and storied run, it’s time to retire the adage, “As Ohio goes, so goes the nation.”
The 2020 presidential election has marked the end of a special era for the Buckeye State, as Ohio’s long streak of siding with the presidential-election winner was broken when Democrat Joe Biden clinched the presidency with a projected victory in Pennsylvania that reestablished Democrats’ dominance in “blue wall” states that Trump overturned four years ago.
News outlets called the race for Biden and Kamala Harris, the first black woman and South Asian-American woman elected vice president, at 11:30 a.m. Saturday after elections officials in the state spent days counting an unprecedented number of absentee ballots.
Ohio was once a reliable swing state and bellwether, containing a microcosm of the national electorate from its position straddling Appalachian, Mid-Atlantic and Midwestern states. But President Trump’s candidacy ushered in a new political age for Ohio after he resoundingly won here but lost the national popular vote to Hillary Clinton.
“The state was pretty reflective of the nation for a long time,” said Kyle Kondik, an elections analyst and author of “The Bellwether: Why Ohio Picks the President.” “There are demographic realities that are driving changes in American politics right now, and Ohio is on the Republican side of that ledger.”
Biden ended up 8 points behind in Ohio this Election Day, losing the state’s 18 electoral votes.
But Biden never needed to win Ohio. Ohioans, used to being wooed and visited by the candidates, got far less of that attention in 2020. The state’s fast process for counting absentee ballots on Election Day and healthy margin for Trump also meant the focus quickly turned to other states still processing results.
Now, after securing the 270 votes needed to win the Electoral College, Biden would become the first president since John F. Kennedy in 1960 to win the presidency without carrying Ohio.
As for its winning streak, Ohio only missed twice in the 20th century — voting for Republicans Thomas E. Dewey in 1944 and Richard Nixon in 1960. Before the 2020 election, Ohio had picked the winner in 14 consecutive elections. In 2004, it was the state that tipped the race between President George W. Bush and then-Massachusetts Sen. John Kerry.
Biden didn’t need it, but Ohio was still a must-win state for Trump. One thing that didn’t change this year: no Republican has ever made it to the White House without carrying Ohio.
Unofficial results from Tuesday suggest it wasn’t just one factor that doomed Biden’s candidacy here. His loss was a result of lower-than-necessary turnout in big cities that, even with growing Democratic fervor in the suburbs, wasn’t enough to neutralize potent Republican support everywhere else.
“I thought that if [Ohio] faded it would be because it was less diverse than the country, and I think that’s part of it,” Kondik said. “But it’s clear that Republicans have made a lot of inroads with white voters who don’t have a four-year degree and just rural, small-town, white voters in general. And Ohio just has a lot of those kinds of voters. Some of those voters have voted Democratic in the past, but Democrats are just losing bigger and bigger shares of that group.”
And while Trump’s populist appeal appears to have waned in other battlegrounds, it hasn’t in Ohio relative to the rest of the country.
“Michigan is a different story. Wisconsin is a different story. This is not some kind of universal thing that we need to figure out — this is an Ohio thing,” said David Niven, a political science professor at the University of Cincinnati.
At an Election Night fundraiser for Republicans in Columbus, U.S. Sen. Rob Portman said Ohioans responded to Mr. Trump’s economic successes before the pandemic — the president’s main re-election message, along with the contention that Biden is controlled by a radical element of his party.
Republican Gov. Mike DeWine attributed the President’s strength here to a feeling that Trump is looking out for Ohioans: “They may not have liked his tweets or other things, but in the end they felt that he had their back. They felt that he would do battle for them, that he was a fighter.
“My experience of a few decades of Ohio politics is that Ohioans like a fighter, and it doesn’t matter whether it’s a Democrat or Republican many times,” the governor said.
In many ways, Democrats couldn’t have picked a better nominee to appeal to working-class voters in the Mahoning Valley, Niven said. Biden was center-left in the Democratic primary and played up his Scranton, Pa., roots during the campaign. He had the full-throated support of U.S. Sen. Sherrod Brown, who called him the most pro-worker presidential nominee in a generation.
“The most devastating aspect of this from the Democrats’ perspective is you couldn’t have designed a better Democratic candidate in the laboratory than Joe Biden to try and win back Trumbull County,” he said. “There’s literally nobody in the party better suited for the task, and he couldn’t do it.”
So has Ohio lost its swing-state status once and for all?
“I think it has to,” Niven said. “Not only didn’t we vote like the nation in 2020, we voted even less like the nation in 2020 after four years of Trump.”
Blade Columbus Bureau Chief Jim Provance contributed to this report.