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Commentary: Trump Campaign Not Taking Ohio For Granted

trump supporters ohio
Jacquelyn Martin
Supporters at a Trump campaign rally in Toledo on Jan. 9, 2020.

Yes, Donald Trump won Ohio by eight percentage points in 2016 on his way to an electoral college victory.

No, his re-election campaign is not taking Ohio for granted in 2020.

"We're certainly not taking the approach that Ohio is an automatic win,'' said Dan Lushek, a graduate of St. Xavier High School here who is the spokesman for the "Trump Victory" campaign.

"We can't afford to let our foot off the gas pedal,'' Lushek said.

The Trump campaign, Lushek said, "never totally left Ohio after the last election. We still have our team leaders in every corner of the state, and we are recruiting more all the time."

There are those in politics on both sides who will tell you that Ohio no longer matters in presidential politics.

Nothing could be further from the truth.

Otherwise, why would Donald Trump have come to Ohio for rallies and photo ops no less than 15 times since becoming president?

That's once every 2.4 months.

In my experience, that's a record pace for a president, eclipsing even George W. Bush and Bill Clinton, who came to Ohio often, lured by the smell of campaign dollars.

Trump comes here looking not so much for money but votes.

There are hundreds of thousands of Ohio voters who had supported Democrats in the past who jumped on board with Trump in 2016 – most of them in the small towns and rural areas of southeast and eastern Ohio, regions that have historically lagged behind the rest of the state when it comes to jobs and the economy.

Trump is clearly going to run for re-election on the economy, which he calls "the greatest in the history of our country."

"The United States is in the midst of an economic boom the likes of which the world has never seen before,'' Trump said recently at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland.

The high-flying rhetoric about economic good times rings hollow in some of those communities where Trump campaigned and won votes. Many of them have yet to see the economic boom the president speaks of. Their coal mines are still mined out; the steel mills closed; the auto and auto parts industry crippled.

Where's our boom? That could well be the question that people in that part of Ohio ask Trump, who promised them he was the only one who could turn things around for them.

David Niven, associate professor of political science at the University of Cincinnati, says that in order to win back Ohio, the Democrats will need a candidate who can relate to the working people who jumped on board with Trump the last time around.

"Joe Biden is uniquely well-suited for Ohio,'' Niven said. "He has the kind of message that could appeal to the Trump voters."

Whoever wins the Democratic nomination, Niven said, is not going to be able to take the path in Ohio that Hillary Clinton's campaign did by ignoring the small counties and rural areas and focusing entirely on the "three C's" – Cincinnati, Columbus and Cleveland.

"We know now that that strategy no longer works for Democrats,'' Niven said.

But does it matter which way Ohio goes in November? Niven says it does.

"If the Republicans were to lose Ohio, then the game is over,'' Niven said.

"We may have lost our luster as the center of everything in presidential politics, but if the Republicans were to lose Ohio now, that would be a sign of big trouble everywhere,'' Niven said.

"That's why we see so much of Trump here and he'll be back over and over."

politically speaking 2
Credit Jim Nolan / WVXU

  Read more "Politically Speaking" here. 


Howard Wilkinson joined the WVXU News Team after 30 years of covering local and state politics for The Cincinnati Enquirer. A native of Dayton, Ohio, Wilkinson has covered every Ohio governor’s race since 1974 as well as 12 presidential nominating conventions. His streak continued by covering both the 2012 Republican and Democratic conventions for 91.7 WVXU. Along with politics, Wilkinson also covered the 2001 Cincinnati race riots; the Lucasville Prison riot in 1993; the Air Canada plane crash at the Cincinnati/Northern Kentucky International Airport in 1983; and the 1997 Ohio River flooding. The Cincinnati Reds are his passion. "I've been listening to WVXU and public radio for many years, and I couldn't be more pleased at the opportunity to be part of it,” he says.