The location, timing and message of this Trump rally could be a preview of his re-election strategy.
Trump won Ohio by eight points in 2016, winning all but eight counties.
Trump’s last Ohio visit was in September, when he told workers at a recycled paper plant in Wapakoneta that he won by fighting for Ohio jobs and Ohio workers.
“And that’s exactly what we’ve done – and right now you’ve got the lowest unemployment you’ve ever had, you have the most successful state that you’ve ever had," Trump said at the event at Pratt Industries.
(By the way, that wasn’t quite right. While it was in record low territory, the state’s unemployment rate was two-tenths of a point higher than it had been just a few months before.)
Trump went to Toledo three times in 2016. His 17 visits to Ohio that year netted him the highest percentage of votes for a Republican presidential candidate since 1980 in 38 Ohio counties – most of them in Appalachia.
And while 2018 was a good year for Republicans in Ohio, Democratic US Sen. Sherrod Brown won re-election by taking Dayton and Montgomery County – which Trump had won. And Brown won back the far northeast and Youngstown area counties Trump took and regained ground Democrats lost in 2016 in the Toledo area.
Since he won the White House, Trump has traveled to Ohio 14 times – sometimes doing two events in a day. And Brown expects more of the same this year.
“He’s sort of a full time candidate through much of his presidency, so I assume he’ll be in Ohio a lot,” Brown said.
Brown said while in Toledo, Trump should answer for what Brown calls a set of "betrayals" – no increase in the minimum wage, the overtime rule change, the appointment of federal judges who Brown said choose corporations over workers and not fully supporting Great Lakes cleanup efforts.
Ohio’s Republican Sen. Rob Portman is often at Trump’s campaign events, and like every other Ohio Republican member of Congress and statewide elected official, he’s a state chair of Trump’s re-election campaign.
“I think he’s been in Ohio a lot because he still views it as a really important state for his re-election," Portman said.
Portman said he hopes Trump will talk about the effect of the USMCA trade deal on manufacturing, auto and agriculture jobs, and about tax reform that Portman says has driven up economic growth and wages in Ohio. But he said with all that’s happening, he’ll likely stay in Washington and not attend the Toledo rally.
And all that’s happened could change whatever Trump’s message will be, though Republicans have said the economy will be their leading talking point.
While several northwest Ohio counties have unemployment rates comparable to the rest of the state, Ottawa County has one of the highest rates. There’s a lot of farming in northwest Ohio, and many farmers report Trump’s tariffs have hurt them.
Ohio’s aging and less diverse demographics have led to debates over whether it will once again be a state that predicts how the nation will vote – a bellwether – or whether it still has an almost even split of voters from each party – a swing state.
But University of Dayton associate professor of political science Christopher Devine says Ohio will still be a popular place on the campaign trail.
He noted 28 percent of all presidential campaign events in 2012 were in Ohio, and that number plummeted to about 13 percent of all campaign visits in 2016.
“I think you’re going to see fewer visits to Ohio maybe even than in 2016, but certainly than in previous years, but certainly with President Trump’s visit, this is showing that we’re not going to get ignored in 2020 either," Devine said.
But Devine said Trump likely considers Ohio part of his firewall in the Midwest, and also says he may have picked Toledo because he can reach part of Michigan as well – a state Trump won by a very slim margin.
The most recent statewide Quinnipiac poll was last summer, and showed Joe Biden was the only Democratic candidate who would beat Trump in Ohio. But that was more than five months ago.