Though coronavirus concerns have shut down a lot of activity in Ohio, Tuesday's primary is still on. And surburban women are expected to play a key role in what happens.
While Ohio has been considered a key swing state in previous years, there are signs that national Democrats won’t be spending as much time and money here as they have in the past. Republicans have won big in Ohio the last few election cycles. But Ohio Democrats here say they’re not giving up, and that one critical demographic will move the state back to blue – suburban women.
Erin Rosiello is a longtime Democrat from Republican Warren County, north of Cincinnati, but decided in 2016 to vote for Donald Trump.
"There was a period of my life where I was more in step with what I perceived to be Republican values,” Rosiello said. “And I felt like the fiscal responsibility was important, free market capitalism was a good thing. There were many things that I felt like were in alignment. And ultimately in 2016, I felt like we needed a good change.”
She wasn’t the only one. Exit polls showed suburban voters slightly preferred Trump over Hillary Clinton, and white women did too, by a bigger margin.
Not far from Rosiello geographically but far away politically that year is Andrea Granieri, a lifelong Republican in very red Anderson Township east of Cincinnati. She said she was casually observing the 2016 elections, thinking Trump wouldn’t become her party’s nominee.
“So just, you know, no sense of panic whatsoever. Just continued on. You know, it's my typical, living in my little bubble life and then he got the Republican nomination. And so that was the first time in that election, that presidential election, that I did not vote for a Republican,” Granieri said.
But 2.8 million Ohioans did, and Trump won Ohio by 8 points.
Political scientists say that may not be the case this year, based on what they saw in 2018. Paul Beck, a professor emeritus of political science at Ohio State University, said there was a blue wave in Ohio in that midterm election, but said it wasn’t obvious because of what he calls Republican gerrymandering of Congressional districts.
“Democrats were up pretty much across the board in running for Congress in 2018. And I would expect that same surge coming out of the suburbs – particularly women,” Beck said.
In 2018, Democrats picked up five seats in the Ohio House, flipping GOP districts for the first time in eight years. But they also lost a seat in the House. The parties kept the status quo in the Senate, with each party winning and losing a seat.
Democrats say they’re pulling in big numbers of party switchers, especially suburban Republican women who they say are particularly upset with Trump.
But Republicans say they’re not concerned. Evan Machan with the Ohio Republican Party said, “We see party switchers on both sides of the aisle. Enthusiasm for the president is overwhelming, and we encourage any and all Democrats who feel disenfranchised by the new socialist Democrat party to embrace conservative, Republican values. We are truly the big tent party.”
But Granieri says she won’t be back. She’s gotten involved in local politics and now calls herself a Democrat.
“I think having children starts to change the urgency with which you see the political landscape as well,” Granieri said. “And so I think that helps kind of fast track my thinking, because instead of just thinking about yourself, you're thinking about, OK, how is the world going to be left in 20, 30, 50 years? And it just kind of shifts your perspective.”
And Rosiello has taken it a step further. After facing some personal and financial crises, including stage 4 lung cancer, she’s decided to run as a Democrat in her very Republican Ohio House district. She knows it’s a long shot.
“I am absolutely OK with that,” Rosiello said. “And I think that this unfortunate series of events has put me in a position where I am extremely passionate about getting the word out and talking to people, listening to people, and I'm willing to fight that uphill battle.”
The last early voting numbers before election day show 53 percent of ballots that have been returned by mail or cast in person are Democratic, 42 percent Republican. There are still three candidates vying for the Democratic nomination for president, and while Trump does have opposition in Bill Weld, he’s unopposed as a Republican on the Ohio ballot.