CINCINNATI — President-elect Joe Biden is the first person to win the presidency without carrying Ohio since 1960.
Biden’s victory, and the matter in which he won, left many political pundits wondering what it means for the bellwether state moving forward.
“I think that Ohio really isn’t a representative of the whole country the way that it once was,” said Mark Caleb Smith, a professor of political science at Cedarville University in Ohio.
“Ohio now is a much more red state than it is a purple state,” Smith said. “If you look at recent elections, statewide, presidential or gubernatorial, Republicans have done extremely well. I just think that means Ohio has taken a different turn. I think Ohio has shifted a little bit and it’s no longer that middle part of the country — it’s probably a little more on the right, traditional, conservative side.”
Some national political experts take it a step further.
“This election result emphatically tells us Ohio is no longer relevant for the purposes of picking the president,” said NBC News contributor David Wasserman, House editor for The Cook Political Report. “It’s way off from being the swing state it was several decades ago.”
Donald Trump won Michigan, Wisconsin and Pennsylvania on the way to his presidency in 2016, but Biden put forth a lot of effort and resources to bring them back. While Biden was able to win Michigan, Wisconsin and Pennsylvania, according to NBC News projections, Ohio remained in Trump’s column.
What separates Ohio from those other Midwestern states?
Ohio is an overwhelmingly white working-class state, and the Appalachian parts are even further right than they were four years ago, Wasserman said.
Many Ohio counties have turned increasingly red since the state supported President Barack Obama in 2012.
For example, only 38 percent of Trumbull County voted Republican in the 2012 presidential election, compared to 54 percent this year.
Similarly, 59 percent of Republicans in Jackson County chose presidential candidate Mitt Romney in 2012 before 76 percent voted for Trump this year.
Sen. Sherrod Brown, D-Ohio, who has been successful campaigning in Ohio in recent years, said in an interview last week that he was disappointed that Ohio didn’t help carry Biden to victory.
“Obviously, I was hoping for something very different. I was thrilled by the energy we saw. Ohio is a tough challenge. Trump has a connection to voters, especially in the rural areas,” Brown said.
Biden joined Grover Cleveland, who did it twice, Franklin D. Roosevelt and John F. Kennedy as the only Democrats since the Civil War to win the presidency without the help of Ohio.
Biden did so by rebuilding the “blue wall” of Pennsylvania, Wisconsin and Michigan, according to NBC News projections.
Last month, Biden made a campaign stop in Toledo, where he promised to invest in American workers and create 1 million union jobs to help build up the middle class.
Because of population and demographic changes, Ohio is a little whiter than some other Midwestern states, so it votes in a different way, Smith said.
He added that Ohio has been a bellwether state because it resembled the rest of the United States in demographics, the urban-rural breakdown and industry.
“I don’t think that’s the case anymore,” Smith said. “I don’t think Ohio has changed much [since 2016], I think the national mood has changed around Ohio. I think it’s clear [Trump] has very broad appeal here. He visits the state regularly. Ohio is sort of moving out of that moderate, in-the-middle position it’s been [in] historically and moving toward a redder, more conservative position.”
Christopher Devine, assistant professor of political science at the University of Dayton, echoed that sentiment.
“I think Ohio has shifted from its bellwether status in the last two elections,” he said. “I’m not willing to go so far as to state Ohio is a solidly red state, because red and blue state designations tend to be overdone.
“It is no longer the case that ‘so goes Ohio then so goes the nation,’ he said. “In fact, Ohio seems to be increasingly Republican, although it’s premature to label it a solid red state.”
The state Senate has 24 Republicans to nine Democrats. The state House has 61 Republicans to 38 Democrats. The governor, one senator and the state attorney general are Republicans.
Meanwhile, opinions about what a Biden presidency means for Ohio are mixed.
Ronnie A. Dunn, interim chief diversity officer and associate professor of urban studies at Cleveland State University, said he believes Biden will bring the country together.
Biden said he’ll represent and preside over all Americans and their interests, and “I’m hopeful that he’ll unify the country,” Dunn said.
Smith took a different approach.
“I’m not sure if the Biden administration will have a dramatic effect on the country or on Ohio itself unless our leaders in the party decide that they want to cooperate and compromise. I think we’re going to be looking at a [more] divided government than a unified government,” Smith said.
“I don’t think either party is in a position to bring about dramatic change. I don’t see this moving things one way or the other,” he said. “As of right now, I don’t see Biden representing a dramatic change. If the Democrats take the Senate, there could possibly be some things that happen.”
Devine said a Biden presidency will probably mean de-escalation of the trade war with China, which could help farmers in Ohio.
“But it’s going to be hard to pass some of [his] policies through legislation that he promised on the campaign trail. But some things he can accomplish through executive orders,” Devine said.