Kaufman: Battle in the Buckeye State

“This election is becoming about ordinary Americans against people who apparently loathe them.”

Cincinnati, Ohio.

The Buckeye State has long been a crucial state in determining the presidency. But perhaps because it’s moving right (Trump won in 2016 by a half-million votes) it’s now ignored or mocked  — until recently. Polls continue to show a tight race with 18 electoral votes at stake. 

I was in Ohio last week and discussed the election with a few folks. 

My cousin in Columbus, 39, is an engineer with three children. He’s a conflicted conservative. 

“As a military veteran and Kentucky native, I’ve consistently voted with the Republican Party,” he said. “But Trump has been an embarrassment and is unlikely to get my vote due to his narcissism and unprofessionalism. His disrespect of top military generals and mishandling of the military has been incredibly bad. I’m currently undecided, and unfortunately my vote will likely be a game-time decision.”

Cleveland, Ohio.

A 33-year-old acquaintance in the Cleveland suburbs is a conservative Christian and father of three. He didn’t vote Trump last time for various reasons, “mostly on character,” he claims. A former teacher from South Carolina, he is now a mortgage banker. 

“I won’t be voting for either main party candidate,” he told me. “I can’t tell my daughter that I voted for a serial adulterer who owned a strip club and bragged about grabbing women by their genitals. But I can’t tell anyone that I voted for two people who genuinely seem to love killing babies. So here I am, a man without a political party — at least until Trump releases his hold on the GOP.”

I briefly spoke to a middle-aged farmer at a western Ohio rest area on a sunny afternoon.

“I wish Trump was more disciplined and stayed on message but the Democrats scare the heck out of us,” he said, citing radical environmental policies like the Green New Deal – deemed a “laundry list of irresponsible promises with a sky-high price tag” by Ohio Sen. Rob Portman last year. “People I know aren’t always pleased with the president’s style, but they have nowhere else to go. I also like and trust Mike Pence and worry about the deficit.

A Trump 2020 sign in rural Ohio.

As Ohio-based speakers noted at last month’s national convention, a Biden/Harris ticket indeed is hostile to farming. This probably means Trump needs to “revisit his 2016 playbook.”

The new United States-Mexico-Canada Agreement included some positives for dairy producers and wheat growers, and repealed Obama/Biden’s 2015 Waters of the United States rule that farm country despised. Tellingly, Harris was one of only 10 senators to oppose the popular bi-partisan measure.

Finally, I hit Fairfield, a diverse suburb of 40,000 between Dayton and Cincinnati. The city straddles Butler and Hamilton counties. The former heavily went for Trump four years ago; the latter for Clinton. 

Between slurps of chili, a retired small business owner told me why he favors Trump over Biden. 

“Trump has gone to bat for law and order and religious freedom,” he said. “My 401k looks good, even during COVID, which no American caused; China did.”

He supported John McCain 12 years ago, but flipped to Obama in 2012, before returning to the GOP when Hillary Clinton “categorized me as deplorable.” 

“This election is becoming about ordinary Americans against people who apparently loathe them,” he said. “My neighbor has a BLM sign. I approve of peaceful protests, but when they become dangerous riots, it’s time for crackdowns — and we are there now.”

Urban votes in Ohio are critical. If Biden adds just a few thousand votes in each of the state’s five largest cities — where the minority population is above 50% — that could be enough to turn Ohio blue. The wealthy inner-ring suburbs are also for the taking. Yard signs I saw in Bexley, just east of Columbus, ran about 25 to 1 for Biden, though it’s just the opposite in rural Ohio. Trump especially needs to hold the blue collar Democrats and moderates in places like Akron, Toledo and Youngstown, who went from supporting Obama to Trump.

But when Democrats make cartoonish arguments and elite universities release flawed studies on riots, can Democrats rack up votes in their violent cities like past elections?

Consider what David Limbaugh wrote last week:

“It seems a movement is underway in which African Americans are increasingly rejecting the Democrats’ identity politics and exploitation and treatment of them as part of a group rather than as individuals. Rhetoric eventually rings hollow if it doesn’t match reality. President Trump’s economic policies objectively resulted in historically low records of black unemployment and a real increase in their standard of living. There’s something else going on as well: the torching of our cities, the movement to defund the police and the overall breakdown of law and order. Democrats are miscalculating if they assume minorities are less desirous of safe streets than everyone else.”

So there’s lots of uncertainty, but one potential certainty, announced Tuesday, is Ohioans may not get electoral totals until nearly Thanksgiving.