By Julie Carr Smyth and John Seewer, Associated Press
COLUMBUS, Ohio (AP) — Republicans said they won sweeping victories in Ohio by borrowing from Barack Obama’s mobilization playbook and using President Donald Trump’s ability to fire up his base.
After suffering a stinging defeat in 2012, when Obama won the perennial bellwether state and the presidency, the Republican National Committee said it learned from its mistakes.
“President Obama’s ground game was the most successful ever fielded up to that point, so we adopted it wholesale,” the RNC said in a memo released a day after the election. “No more focus on offices and massive deployments of people from outside areas into targeted neighborhoods, instead our door-to-door efforts became community based.”
The party won every statewide nonjudicial office that wasn’t judiciary, including the open seat for governor won by Attorney General Mike DeWine. It also defended its 12-4 congressional majority against a couple stiff Democratic challenges and held onto supermajorities in both chambers of the Ohio General Assembly.
The RNC said it teamed up with the Ohio Republican Party to make more than 5 million voter contacts, including door knocks and phone calls.
The state Democratic party disagreed with Republicans’ assessment of their strategy.
“Republican voters turned out because of Trump, plain and simple,” said Kirstin Alvanitakis, spokeswoman for the Ohio Democratic Party. “Unlike Democratic voters, their voters didn’t have slate cards in their hands, and they didn’t have a personal contact from a volunteer asking them to vote through the entire ballot, which is why they struggled so much in the Supreme Court races.”
Supreme Court candidates aren’t shown as Democrats or Republicans on the ballot in Ohio. Democrats won both races Tuesday.
Democratic voters also came out in droves even though the party didn’t have much success. In addition to the two state Supreme Court seats, Democrats cut into Republicans’ Ohio House majority, the party’s first midterm gains in a dozen years. Democratic governor nominee Richard Cordray won almost 90,000 more votes statewide Tuesday than Republican Gov. John Kasich did in his 2-to-1 landslide victory in 2014.
Democrats’ coordinated campaign was robust, Alvanitakis said. It included almost 10 million paid digital impressions to likely and sporadic Democratic voters, promoting the entire slate — including the two successful Supreme Court candidates, Melody Stewart and Michael Donnelly.
Two-thirds of Ohio’s voters said Trump played a role in their decisions, according to data gathered by AP VoteCast, a nationwide survey of more than 115,000 voters that included 3,842 voters in Ohio.
Republican voter Gary Smith, a marketing consultant from Dublin, said most of the candidates he favored were lined up behind the president.
“Absolutely, Trump is on the ballot whether his name is there or not,” Smith said.
Kevin Benson, a 38-year-old graphic designer from Westerville, Ohio, said he voted for Democrats even though he wasn’t inspired by Cordray.
“He’s just, you know, he doesn’t generate that enthusiasm that, you know, someone else could have,” Benson said. “The Democrats in this state are kind of struggling trying to find quality candidates. I think he was the best they could’ve found.”
Unlike the rallying cry of “fix the damn roads” that Democrat Gretchen Whitmer used to win the Michigan governor’s office, Cordray’s campaign lacked that kind of clear message that resonated with voters.
Tuesday’s results also showed that Democrats can no longer simply count on piling up votes from the state’s blue-collar workers, who still can swing an election.
One in five voters in Ohio was from a union household, and those voters leaned toward Cordray, according to VoteCast. But it wasn’t nearly enough to make a difference.
Union households did prefer Democratic U.S. Sen. Sherrod Brown, who won a third term and has long been friendly to labor unions and against trade agreements, by a somewhat wider margin, VoteCast data showed.
Cordray’s trouble connecting with working class voters showed up in blue-collar Mahoning County, where he got just under 49,000 votes compared with the more than 56,000 votes Democrat Ted Strickland collected there in 2010.
Without a better showing among people who traditionally backed Democrats, they were unable to overcome the GOP’s dominance in rural Ohio.
About half of DeWine’s vote total came from the state’s small towns and rural areas, a bigger share than what he picked up from the more populated suburbs, according to VoteCast.
Seewer reported from Toledo. Associated Press reporters Mark Gillispie in Cleveland, Dan Sewell in Cincinnati and Kantele Franko in Westerville and Angie Wang in Dublin contributed.
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