Dems: Trump factored into local races

WARREN — A third-place finish by Trumbull County commissioner write-in candidate Todd Johnson, who carried about 6 percent of the vote Nov. 8, was not a surprise.

But what may have been a surprise was the 44 percent of votes cast for Republican challenger Mary Williams in this Democratic stronghold, compared with the 50 percent of votes cast for 12-year incumbent Commissioner Dan Polivka, who also is the longtime local Democratic Party chairman.

Polivka’s 44,893 votes for 50.44 percent was the lowest for any countywide Democratic candidate in this month’s election. Polivka believes that President-elect Donald Trump’s campaign affected his race.

Still, Polivka was pleased with the support he received, especially in Warren, where he began his political career. He won a 5th ward council seat in 1983 and was later elected to an at-large seat before moving on to serve as county commissioner.

The commissioner said other winning candidates, like himself, received fewer votes than in previous elections. He described it, in part, as the effect of  Trump’s presidential campaign on the down-ticket races.

“We had some traditional Democrats who voted for Trump and also switched their support in the down-ticket races,” Polivka said. “I am glad there were some Trump voters that voted for him, but supported Democrats in the down-ticket races. Otherwise, a lot more Democrats would have lost their races.”

Polivka said this was not his toughest campaign, but it ranks high as one of his toughest.

“I think my second campaign for commissioner was the toughest,” he said.

Ohio 63rd District Rep. Michael O’Brien, D-Warren, who received 57.07 percent of the vote in Trumbull, had the next lowest percentage of votes in a countywide or larger region. Of those seeking countywide re-elections, most were at least nine percentage points greater that Polivka’s win, according to numbers provided by the Trumbull County Board of Elections.

Polivka, however, was the only countywide seat that had a specific write-in candidate seeking the seat and had voters write down other people’s names that did not run for the office.

“There absolutely was a Trump factor,” O’Brien said. “I lost by 1,000 votes in Ashtabula County. I was fortunate to have such strong support in Trumbull. People here know my record.”

O’Brien said two established Democratic county commissioners in Ashtabula were trounced as a result of the number of voters that switched their party or voted Republican in response to the campaigns of Trump and U.S. Sen. Rob Portman, R-Ohio.

Williams, of Cortland, agrees there was a “Trump factor,” in this and other races in Trumbull County, but cautions both parties not to try to extract too much out of the president-elect’s victory to down-ballot races.

“We still did not get a Republican candidate elected to office,” she said. “Voters are resistant to change.”

The president-elect’s campaign did demonstrate that people think the issues they feel are important have been neglected, she said.

“I think the lower vote totals that some Democrats received was caused by some voters seeing they have not been representing their core conservative beliefs,” she said. “Voters don’t want to see a further erosion of their values. They want the middle-class values brought back.”

As for her campaign, Williams believes she relied too heavily on social media and should have gone out more to personally meet with people, so she could talk about those things she believes are important.

“I’ve spoken to people about this campaign and, in a different race, I will reach out and seek more assistance. I will not try to do so much on my own,” Williams said.

Williams expects to take another shot at winning a commissioner’s seat.

“It is the only elected position that I’m really interested in,” she said.

Johnson realized early in the campaign the challenges he would face by running as a write-in candidate. It was the lack of that Democratic or Republican connection that he believes hurt his chances the most.

“If this was a race where people were looking at the ideas of each of the candidates, then I would have had a good chance at winning,” Johnson said. “Voters are very ingrained in Trumbull County to our parties, sometimes to our detriment,” Johnson said. “We are not taking critical looks at the issues, forcing people to defend their positions and, when they have served, what they have done to benefit the community.”

Williams received 39,035 votes, or 43.86 percent, and Johnson, carried 4,924 votes, or 5.53 percent of the vote. Another 157 people wrote in other names as their candidates, the elections board breakdown shows.

Johnson, a pastor at Second Baptist Church in Warren and a first-time political candidate, said he campaigned heavily on social media and in newsprint to introduce himself and the issues he felt were important in the county.

Throughout the race, Johnson, who quit his job with the Trumbull County Department of  Job and Family Services in August, also spent two to three days a week in different areas of the county.

Despite campaign efforts in more rural areas of the county, Johnson received the largest vote totals from Warren at 2,727. Even votes cast from voters in Howland and Warren Township, his second- and third-highest communities, remained in the hundreds, rather than thousands. Johnson received 375 votes in Howland and 221 votes in Warren Township.

Johnson said he intends to run for political office again, but won’t give up on efforts to campaign based on issues rather than party affiliation.

“It likely will be as an independent,” Johnson said. “I don’t see the benefit of either party to me as a man of color. Our local Democratic Party has done little to improve the quality of life. We don’t want to see people only when they are seeking our votes for office.”