California Leads, But Ohio Rules: How I Saw the Election in Ohio
I spent the last two weeks before the election campaigning for President Obama in my hometown of Cincinnati (that’s the southern-most “C” city in Ohio – i.e. not Cleveland or Columbus), in Hamilton County. What would make me leave the 60-degree comfort of life in California to stand out in the cold of Cincinnati as polls opened at dawn?
It was nerve-wracking, fun, and inspiring.
California, where I’ve lived for almost 30 years, is a diverse place, full of innovation and change. It’s a relatively easy place to be new. Like myself, the vast majority of Californians are immigrants to the state; the populations are so fluid that power is more easily accessible to more people. There’s so much diversity that in a way people are more the same, because the vast majority adopted the state.
But for all its diversity, the Golden State’s electoral votes go consistently Democratic. The urban areas, such as Silicon Valley and Los Angeles, lean overwhelmingly liberal, while the rural areas are generally more conservative. 44% of California’s registered voters are Democrats and 30% are Republicans.
Not so in Ohio.
Ohio as a whole is different, a microcosm of America as a whole, very sharply divided. Its population is divided urban and rural, but also north and south. Politically, it’s more evenly divided, leading to swings in its dominant forces. Hamilton County, where Cincinnati is located, has become a microcosm of the state.
The northern part of the state tends to be more liberal and Democratic. The further south you go, the more conservative it generally becomes. Hamilton County is in the far southwest, just across the river from Kentucky. As an urban center it has substantial liberal leanings, but as a southern county, its dominant culture and political leanings are conservative.
What I saw during my two weeks of campaigning and my role as Election Observer in a predominantly African American polling place on Election Day led me to look at my experiences of these two states in a new way. What I’ve seen over a lifetime shows me that the changing demographics of the US are reflected in Ohio, that a Republican Party hijacked by extremists living in some fantasy past has a limited future, and the historical white Republican power elite is not going to change without a fight. A dirty, unpatriotic fight.
And I saw firsthand how systematic attempts at voter suppression can backfire, if communities are organized and voters feel they can make a difference.
Cincinnati: Microcosm of Republican Party Problems?
When I was growing up in the 60s and 70s, Cincinnati had an established and somewhat unchanging population, elite and power structure. Cincinnati’s diversity was limited to African Americans, and white Protestants, Catholics and Jews. The population was very stable, not very fluid. My elementary school class was literally the same 30 kids for seven years, except for three kids who came and went; it was a hard place to be new. Republicans were unashamedly the party of the wealthy, and if you hoped to be successful in business, you joined the club. In the dominant view, reflected by its daily newspapers, the Democratic Party didn’t exist. The dominant culture was strong, but in the urban areas, minorities such as Blacks and Jews had very strong, generally liberal, communities, and along with other liberals tugged the reluctant conservative dominant culture toward modernity.
In the 1980s, the city was trying to stimulate its economic development partly by emulating the magic of the entrepreneurship and innovation of Silicon Valley. The city has become far more diverse, with many immigrants and ethnic minorities that weren’t visible when I lived there. These reflect the demographics of the US. I left Ohio after high school, so I didn’t see the changes day to day or year to year, but I visited every year. I first really noticed a shift in 2004, the year of George Bush’s re-election.
In 2004, the year of Bush’s re-election, my parents’ Republican conservative friends disliked the administration’s foreign and fiscal policies and the economic drag on local development. The Iraq war was foundering, draining our national treasury and costing lives with an unclear end goal. Shockingly, the local newspapers printed editorials and letters that actually questioned the policies of the administration. While Hamilton County and Ohio ended up re-electing George Bush in 2004, the tone of the election reflected the changing demographics. Going forward, the Republican Party doubled down on the political policies and election practices they’d developed. It has led to turmoil within their party and a country tired of politicians refusing to cooperate and solve very serious problems. Their approach did not serve them well in this election.