Trump Will Be a Factor in Ohio's Midterm Elections

President Trump leaves the stage after his remarks at the 2018 Ohio Republican Party state dinner in Columbus, Ohio on Friday, Aug. 24.
President Donald Trump leaves the stage at the 2018 Ohio Republican Party state dinner in Columbus on Aug. 24. [Karen Kasler/ideastream]
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by Karen Kasler, statehouse correspondent, Ohio Public Radio

President Donald Trump will loom large in this fall's midterm elections in Ohio, with Democrats saying his unpopularity will mean significant inroads for them. They point to the recent special election in Ohio's 12th District, where Republican Troy Balderson won by just one percentage point over Democrat Danny O'Connor. But if Republicans are nervous by that strong Democratic showing in a traditional Republican stronghold, they didn't show it at Friday's annual Ohio GOP dinner. They presented a unified message of support for the president and optimism for the midterms.

"'You cannot win unless you get the state of Ohio.' I heard that, I heard that so many times," Trump mused during his speech at the dinner.  "'You need the state of Ohio. Therefore, Trump can't win.' I think we won by nine points." The crowd cheered.

President Trump actually won Ohio by a little over eight points. But he was correct in telling the Ohio Republican Party's annual state dinner that no Republican has won the White House without Ohio. 

Trump avoided any mention of his former lawyer Michael Cohen's guilty plea and his former campaign manager Paul Manafort's conviction. Instead, Trump's comments could be described as mostly red meat to the to the nearly 2,000 paying guests – the national anthem, immigration and crime, trade, and blasts against Democrats, including national figures along with gubernatorial candidate Richard Cordray. Trump also called out the members of Ohio's Congressional delegation in attendance, including Troy Balderson, who had just been certified as the winner in the special election in Ohio's 12th Congressional District – a district Trump won by 11 points. Balderson beat Democrat Danny O'Connor by less than a point.

"And I hear about a blue wave. I say, why is there a blue wave? We are doing better now with jobs – today, there are more people working than at any time ever in the history of our country," Trump said. "So I don't think there's going to be a blue wave. I hope there's a red wave."

 

Among the candidates, officials, volunteers and party faithful at the dinner was Sen. Bob Hackett (R-London). He admitted there might be questions about whether Trump will be a draw or a drag this fall.

"There's concern. I mean, there is some concern, but I don't think – we gotta get, the Republicans gotta get the votes out. We gotta get the vote out. We saw that in the 12th district. We won, but we need to get the vote out because we have a feeling the Democrats are going to get the votes out this year."

 

But other attendees were more positive about Trump's possible pull on the vote. Alex Pavloff is the executive vice chair of the Ohio Young Republicans.

"Absolutely he'll be a draw. Those rallies are some of the best modes of voter contact I've ever seen. People leave those rallies and they go knock doors and make phone calls and donate," said Pavloff.

 

Dave Johnson, chairman of the Columbiana County Republican Party, said Trump will be a strength for candidates up and down the ticket. 

"The president's a huge draw. This is a narrative that the national media have been working on, and it never stops. Look, we didn't elect him as a Cub Scout, we knew that when we elected Donald Trump," Johnson said. "We elected him to cut taxes and cut regulations and spur the economy and address a lot of the international issues like the trade issues."

Tracey Winbush is vice chair of the nearby Mahoning County Republican Party. She also was a "Never Trumper" before he became the party's nominee in 2016.

"I had my concerns, and I can say, even with my 'no Trump' existence, I was wrong. He was the best choice for 2016 and I think he'll be the choice for 2020."

 

One party leader was notably absent – vocal Trump critic Gov. John Kasich. He hasn't attended a GOP state dinner in two years, since Trump helped install Jane Timken as chair, ousting Kasich supporter Matt Borges. Kasich went completely unmentioned until candidate for governor Mike DeWine dropped his name from the podium, along with Lt. Gov. Mary Taylor, the candidate who'd been his opponent in the bitter May primary that made him the nominee. 

 

Another Republican who's been a staunch critic of Trump wasn't mentioned by Trump – Sen. John McCain, with whom he'd had several public feuds. It had been announced that day that McCain was ending treatment for brain cancer, and he died the next day. 

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