Valley GOP makes big strides
Most elected officials in Mahoning and Trumbull counties are Democrats, and that’s not likely to change for years.
But advances Republicans have made here in just two elections are not only remarkable, but historic.
Much credit goes to someone who hasn’t stepped foot in the Mahoning Valley in more than three years: Donald Trump.
Until Trump came along, the two counties voted for the Democratic presidential candidate every four years since 1936, except for 1956 and 1972, the second terms of Republicans Dwight Eisenhower and Richard Nixon. The numbers were often huge with Mahoning delivering 60-65 percent of the vote for Democrats and a few percentage points less in Trumbull County.
Before 2016, the lone exception was 1992. Ross Perot, the last legitimate independent presidential candidate, kept Democrat Bill Clinton’s numbers down in the Valley. Clinton still won both counties with ease, but Perot did 0.89 percent better in Trumbull than incumbent Republican George H.W. Bush, and Bush beat him by only 1.41 percent in Mahoning.
Then came Trump.
In 2016, Trump was the first nonincumbent Republican presidential candidate to win Trumbull County since Herbert Hoover in 1928 when the area was Republican. Trump won by 6.22 percent and nearly won Mahoning, losing to Democrat Hillary Clinton by 3.28 percent.
But Trump didn’t help down-ticket candidates in either county that year.
In 2018, two Republicans captured state legislative seats in Mahoning County with Don Manning winning in the Ohio House 59th District and Michael Rulli victorious in the Ohio Senate 33rd District. Rulli lost Mahoning County, but the race was close enough there that his lopsided win in the less-populated Columbiana County carried him to a win.
One question heading into this election was if Trump did well here, would he have coattails?
The answer? Definitely.
Trump won Trumbull County by 10.38 percent and Mahoning by 1.93 percent.
That helped some down-ticket candidates in Trumbull win, particularly Republican Mike Loychik in the Ohio House 63rd District and kept victory margins for Democrats down to levels not seen here in decades.
It wasn’t all Trump, but he’s responsible for a large part.
Several who supported Trump in the area in 2016 went into the voting booth, filled in the oval next to his name and left the rest of the ballot untouched.
Not in this election.
The Trump campaign emphasized to its supporters that down-ticket races were important, and the message was heard.
Come January, Trumbull County will have its first Republican commissioner since Lyle Williams, more than 40 years ago.
The Valley’s delegation to the state Legislature will have four Republicans and two Democrats. The two counties were represented in Columbus by six Democrats just two years ago.
Before Trump, it was decades since Republicans had even an outside shot of being competitive in the Valley.
Now the area has two political parties, and in future years Republicans will have a legitimate shot to compete for elected office. Whether you’re a Democrat or a Republican, it’s a good thing for the area.
However, those who still think Ohio is a competitive state are fooling themselves. Democrats have a legitimate complaint about gerrymandering in the General Assembly and especially in the state’s 16 congressional districts.
But in only one year — 2006 — have Democrats won statewide executive office races dating back to 1990.
Barack Obama’s presidential victories in Ohio in 2008 and 2012 are distant memories.
Yes, U.S. Sen. Sherrod Brown, D-Cleveland, has won three terms in the Senate, but each time, his margin of victory decreased, even against pretty weak competition the last two times.
Also, don’t point to three Supreme Court justice victories for Democrats since 2018. Those are judicial races so candidates don’t have their party affiliation next to their name and the drop off in vote totals is significant. The average voters have no idea who they’re supporting if they vote at all.
Several “experts” believed Ohio was in play this year. Trump proved them wrong.
As Democrats look to statewide races in 2022, they’ll need a dose of good luck to find viable candidates. Various Republican corruption scandals over the past decade have done little to convince voters to back Democrats.
Ohio Democrats contend they have a “deep bench” of quality candidates for 2022. I remain skeptical.
And that’s unfortunate because, just like on the local level, competition on the state level is good for voters.
Skolnick covers politics for the Tribune Chronicle and The Vindicator.