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What Should Ohio Republicans Take Away from This Election?

Wednesday, November 14, 2012 at 5:24 PM

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It’s been more than a week since Mitt Romney’s defeat – and Republicans are asking, “What happened?” Was it low turnout for Romney? A failure to appeal to younger, female and nonwhite voters? As the debate unfolds nationally, ideastream’s Nick Castele takes a look at what this conversation means for Ohio.

Ohio exit polls showed Obama beating Romney 11 points among women, 12 points among Latinos and 28 points among voters younger than 30.

And while nationally, pundits are talking about Democratic gains among Latino voters—in Ohio, Obama actually underperformed John Kerry with Latinos. Plus, the Latino vote made up only 3 percent of the Ohio electorate.

Nevertheless, Obama’s win in Ohio has Republicans and political scientists trying to figure out how the GOP can win elections again. They don’t all agree.

Lake County Republican Congressman Steve LaTourette believes GOP rhetoric alienated many Latino and women voters. LaTourette, who is retiring this year, says the GOP could have won over more socially moderate, fiscally conservative women in Ohio—until conservative Senate candidates in other states started talking about rape and abortion.

LATOURETTE: “The Democrats can do bad things to their wallets, but they’re afraid that the Republicans are going to do bad things to their person and their families.”

LaTourette says he opposes abortion, but the party may need a more nuanced stance.

LATOURETTE: “We need to distinguish between views that we hold personally and adopt, and then sort of telling everybody that in order to be in the party, you have to be that way too.”

And on immigration, he says, Republicans and Democrats must find ways to compromise.

Republican Congressman Jim Renacci, fresh off of a victory over Democrat Betty Sutton in a newly redrawn district, agrees that the GOP should stick to the economy. 

RENACCI: “There are Republican candidates out there who are pro-choice. But that’s the decision they make. But I think we come back to the same message that it’s about jobs and the economy.”

But Republican strategist Mark Weaver isn’t so conciliatory. He says this election was not a sign the GOP needs to remake itself.

WEAVER: “This was not a landslide. This was not a realignment. This was not a mandate.”

Weaver says the biggest problem for Republicans in this election was low turnout, and that the party still has a strong grip on Ohio politics.

WEAVER: “Republicans have won almost every office within the state. Governor, lieutenant governor, attorney general, treasurer, secretary, auditor, most of the Supreme Court, both houses of the legislature.”

Political analyst Jason Johnson at Hiram College says the GOP will continue to control the legislature because of the way districts are drawn. He says Republicans have drawn state house and senate district boundaries to heavily favor their party—a practice known as gerrymandering—and that will pretty much guarantee Republican majorities in the General Assembly—and in the state’s Congressional delegation—until the next round of redistricting in 2021. 

JOHNSON:  “They can continue to put up candidates who can be successful in a small area. That’s the power and the benefits of gerrymandering.”

But it could be a different story for statewide offices. If the GOP majority steps up efforts to restrict abortions, gay rights or funding for Planned Parenthood with new legislation, it could leave Gov. Kasich and others vulnerable in 2014, says Dave Cohen of Bliss Institute of Applied Politics at the University of Akron.

COHEN: “And if the party decides to double down on these social issues, I think it plays right into the Democrats’ hands.”

And Jason Johnson at Hiram says if Republicans want a more diverse electorate, they’ll have to build a coalition.

JOHNSON: “The way you get a coalition is by offering policies that different groups of people like, then getting those people together in a room and helping them realize that they have things in common. And then getting them all to work together to get your candidate elected.”

With the gubernatorial election two years away, Republicans have time to change their approach—if they decide they really need to.

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