Don’t underestimate Ohio’s role in the 2020 presidential election

Will Ohio – and in particular, the Mahoning Valley – play a major role in the presidential election?

The focus will be on Michigan, Wisconsin, Pennsylvania and a number of other key states, but don’t dismiss Ohio’s importance.

Certainly, the state’s status as a swing state took a blow in 2018 when Republicans swept the statewide executive office races. This came after a solid victory in Ohio for Republican Donald Trump in the 2016 election.

But Democrats would be foolish to write off the state and Republicans would make a mistake to take Ohio for granted.

And it doesn’t seem like either is going to happen.

While she’s not a top-tier Democratic presidential candidate, U.S. Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand of New York made sure to come to Youngstown on Thursday as part of a six-city, two day campaign tour. She called it the “Trump Broken Promises Tour.”

Youngstown was one of only two Ohio cities – Cleveland being the other – that Gillibrand visited. She started in Pittsburgh Thursday.

She wraps up the tour with three stops today in Michigan.

Of course, U.S. Rep. Tim Ryan of Howland, D-13th, is from the Valley and had an April 6 rally in downtown Youngstown.

Two other Democratic presidential candidates also visited the area.

Ex-U.S. Rep. Beto O’Rourke of Texas had a private meeting March 18 in Lordstown with Dave Green, president of the United Auto Workers Local 1112 after the latter was targeted by Trump on Twitter.

U.S. Sen. Bernie Sanders of Vermont, one of the early frontrunners, made an April 14 campaign stop in Lordstown.

This comes well before the state’s presidential primary, whenever that will be.

It’s currently set for March 10, 2020, but the state Senate – at the request of the Ohio Republican Party – made a change to the proposed state budget to move it to March 17.

That was done to follow a Republican National Committee rule that makes any primary after March 15 a winner take all delegates.

The Legislature hasn’t passed the budget, but it looks like the March 17 date will stick over the objections of some Democrats that it could affect voter turnout because it’s also St. Patrick’s Day. Those Democrats want the primary moved to March 24.

Ohio typically doesn’t play much of role in deciding the political party’s nominees as those are largely decided before the state’s primary. Even so, the Valley had visits by Gillibrand, O’Rourke and Sanders as well as Trump surrogates.

Also, Trump had a July 25, 2017, rally at Youngstown’s Covelli Centre that attracted 7,000 people. [The president returns to Ohio with an Aug. 1 rally in Cincinnati.]

Ohio Republican Party Chairwoman Jane Timken was in Youngstown on Thursday to talk about Gillibrand and other Democratic presidential candidates.

Regarding Trump, she said, “He knows and loves the Mahoning Valley.” She added: “In my opinion, the people in the Mahoning Valley are fantastic people with great work ethics. They want a good-paying job. The president knows that. He wants to create jobs in this area and he’s going to keep fighting.”

The campaign, she said, plans to hire a field organizer for the Mahoning Valley.

Bob Paduchik, senior adviser to the Trump 2020 campaign and his 2016 Ohio chairman, told me a few months ago that “you can count” on the president returning to the Valley.

“He loves the Valley,” Paduchik said. “I’m not sure if we can get him back to the Canfield Fair again like we did last time” because of Secret Service concerns.

Trump campaigned at the fair Sept. 5, 2016, for a brief visit with Mike Pence. In 2016, Trump made three visits to the area while Democrat Hillary Clinton, who seemed to take the region for granted, came once.

Clinton’s one visit on July 30, 2016, was an utter disaster.

The rally was to start at 7:45 p.m., but Clinton didn’t take the stage until 10:20 p.m.

Also, the event was at the East High School gymnasium in Youngstown – far too small for the 1,600 people who showed up, some of them two hours early. The fire marshal stopped people from coming into the gym about 7 p.m. and a few people passed out from the heat.

While I don’t believe the Valley will see the frequency of visits from presidential and vice presidential candidates we experienced in 2004, 2008 and 2012, it’s still an important campaign location.

With the job losses we’ve experienced, the idled General Motors complex, for example, makes a perfect backdrop for a Democratic candidate to criticize the economy.

Also, the once heavily Democratic strongholds of Mahoning and Trumbull counties have undergone changes largely because of Trump.

He was the first Republican to win Trumbull since Richard Nixon in 1972, capturing 50.7 percent of the vote to 44.5 percent for Clinton.

Trump lost Mahoning 49.9 percent to 46.6 percent, the best showing for a Republican since Nixon in 1972.