Does Trump Have A Realistic Shot At Ohio's Electoral Votes?
With the Republican presidential nominating convention set to start in about two weeks in Cleveland, Ohio remains a tough fight for Donald Trump, the presumptive nominee, but one that could conceivably be won.
Real Clear Politics, the website that tracks national political news and polling, keeps track of polling in key states like Ohio. It's most recent average of the three latest polls of Ohio voters – done by Public Policy Polling, Quinnipiac University and CBS News/YouGov – gives Hillary Clinton a three percentage point lead over Trump.
Certainly not an insurmountable lead.
So much so that Real Clear Politics lists Ohio as a toss-up state on its Electoral College map.
By now, it's a pretty safe bet that Trump knows that no Republican has ever won the White House without winning Ohio. Nary a one. All the way back to the first Republican president, Abraham Lincoln.
And another fact for Trump to chew over – no president of either party has been elected without winning Ohio since John F. Kennedy in 1960.
In a way, Trump approaches Ohio with one hand tied behind his back. It would be nice – very nice – to have the enthusiastic backing of Ohio Gov. John Kasich, who remains very popular despite spending most of the last year outside the state running for the GOP nomination.
Ohio's 66-member delegation to the Republican National Convention in Cleveland is committed to Kasich; and the governor has not even hinted at the possibility of releasing them in the interest of party unity.
Kasich clearly has no intention of endorsing Trump, at least not any time soon. He has thumbed his nose at Trump's campaign; and concentrated his efforts on helping re-elect Republican majorities in the U.S. Senate and House. In recent weeks, we've seen e-mail appeals to his supporters asking them to donate money to Sen. John McCain of Arizona, Speaker Paul Ryan's GOP House Caucus, and, of course, Ohio's junior senator, Rob Portman, who is locked in a tight race with former Democratic governor Ted Strickland.
At this point, Trump's ground organization in Ohio is practically non-existent; and, in Ohio, "boots on the ground" in the form of large numbers of volunteers and paid staff are essential to winning the Buckeye State.
"Look at Rob Portman's campaign; he's already got 500 interns working on the campaign,'' said Mark R. Weaver, a long-time political consultant in Ohio. "Most campaigns don't have 500 of anything."
But, Weaver said, Trump does have one thing going for him in Ohio – Bob Paduchik, a long-time political operative who has an impressive track record of winning elections in Ohio. Paduchik ran George W. Bush's Ohio campaigns in 2000 and 2004 and won the state for Bush both times. In 2010, he ran Portman's successful campaign to win a first term in the U.S. Senate.
"Bob Paduchik is the best there is,'' Weaver said. "It doesn't get any better than that. Nobody knows more about winning campaigns in Ohio than Bob."
But, of course, Paduchik can't be a one-man band. He has to put together an organization that can do the grassroots work necessary to win in Ohio.
Weaver said it is a fact that Trump is behind Clinton in putting together ground organizations from coast to coast – and especially in the key battleground states such as Ohio.
"If Trump can get an organization together and adjust his message, this thing can be won,'' Weaver said.
"With all due respect to Mr. Trump, message discipline is very important,'' Weaver said.
Which means no more of the rambling, stream-of-consciousness stump speeches full of one-liners guaranteed to whip his most fervent supporters into a frenzy. It means more traditional policy speeches – written out and using a teleprompter – which tell people clearly and in details what he intends to do as president to address the nation's challenges.
"The bluntness of his speech is not bad; it’s the unforced errors he's made that are bad,'' Weaver said. "Things like complaining about a Mexican judge or getting into a fight with (Fox News correspondent) Megyn Kelly. No more of that. It's a matter of precision of message and discipline.
"He's been doing more of that lately; and it works well,'' Weaver said.
The other day, Trump made a speech in which he turned a Clinton slogan upside-down to his advantage. Clinton's campaign has had logo which says "I'm With Her" – a good way to remind voters that she would be making history by becoming the first woman president.
"Trump mentioned her 'I'm With Her" slogan and then said 'my message is I'm with you,''' Weaver said. "That's a pretty good slogan. I think you're going to hear it a lot."
Trump, obviously, is a very wealthy man. He's said he's worth $10 billion; Forbes says that, last year, he was worth $4.5 billion.
It's unclear exactly how much he is worth, but he could clearly self-fund his own campaign with $300 million or so and have plenty of cash left over.
But he is out raising money, with the help of the Republican National Committee, at events around the country. There will be a private fundraising event Wednesday in Cincinnati, where the ticket prices run from $2,700 to $25,000.
Cincinnati has always been a bottomless pit of money for Republican candidates – but, in recent decades, mostly Republicans named either Bush or Portman. We'll see how Trump does.
Clinton has been to Ohio three times for public rallies since clinching the Democratic nomination, including a rally at the Museum Center last Monday with Sen. Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts.
Trump has been back to Ohio for a public event but once since losing to Kasich in the March GOP primary. But it was a carefully chosen event.
It took place in St. Clairsville, in eastern Ohio, in a region of of the state where Barack Obama did not do well and Clinton is not likely to do much better.
And the eastern Ohio crowd, living in a region that has suffered from chronic unemployment, Trump railed against international trade agreements like CAFTA, NAFT and the proposed Trans Pacific Partnership (TPP).
Some say Trump could score with Ohio voters on those trade issues – just because this state has been hit so hard in recent decades by jobs leaving the state and going overseas.
But Pepper said Trump's wailing about American jobs going overseas doesn't wash with his own record as a businessman.
"This is a guy who has had a line of clothing with shirts made in China and ties made in Bangladesh, all of them made by low wage workers," Pepper said. "He's done exactly what he says he doesn't like."
The pro-Clinton forces will not let such arguments go unanswered, Pepper said.
"The Ohio AFL-CIO has a worker-to-worker effort going on, where they are going brother to brother and sister to sister telling union members, 'Don't believe this guy Trump.'''
Clinton, Pepper said, voted against CAFTA in the Senate and wants NAFTA re-negotiated to add environmental and worker protections.
"What Trump is saying out there is something we, as Ohio Democrats, have to rebut,'' Pepper said. "There are plenty of communities out there who have suffered and lost jobs that have gone overseas."
Weaver said there is no question Clinton starts the general election campaign in Ohio with an advantage, "but there is a narrow path to victory for Trump in this state."
Ohio Democrats plan to use what they see as their superior grassroots organization to shut that path.
"Ohio is close; Ohio will always be close,'' Pepper said. "We're organizing for a close race, as we always do. And we are confident we will win."
There is much at stake for the side that wins the key battleground state of Ohio. It could very well be the White House itself.