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The Party of Trump and Other Lessons from Ohio's Primary Campaign

A photo composite of Ohio gubernatioral candidates Mary Taylor (left) and Mike DeWine (right.)

Tomorrow’s primary results will determine the people who will represent the major political parties in this fall’s races for governor, Congress, the state Legislature and for the Republicans – U.S. Senate. But they could also hint at developments later this year.




The Republicans

There’s definitely a theme on the Republican primary ballot. Republican pollsterNeil Newhouse sees it in ads that have been airing in the race for governor and Congress and for state legislative offices. 

“By 2-1, Republican voters are Trump Republicans. It is his Republican Party now. So absolutely – he has taken over the party, and you see that, you see that in advertising here in the state. Ohio’s no different than any other state in that regard,” Newhouse said.

Mike DeWine and Mary Taylor have spent at least $10 million on their primary; by comparison, the nasty primary fight between Jim Petro and Ken Blackwell in 2006 was considered expensive and cost the candidates around $3 million.

'By 2-1, Republican voters are Trump Republicans. It is his Republican Party now.'

The Democrats

And while primaries bring out voters on the far right and the far left, there’s a lot less money being poured in the Democratic race for governor. Only presumed frontrunner Richard Cordray has had the money to run TV ads for a while, which haven’t mentioned his Democratic opponents.

Dennis Kucinich is likely his closest competitor and has been a little tougher in radio ads.

Kyle Kondik is an Ohioan who now handicaps races around the country as the editor of Sabato’s Crystal Ball newsletter out of the University of Virginia’s Center for Politics.

“Certainly, there’s this kind of insider-versus-outsider thing going on in the Democratic Party right now. It’s just not clear to me that Democrats are rejecting the so-called insiders the way they have been on the Republican side,” said Kondik.  

Newhouse said regardless of how Republicans vote, there are three conclusions he can draw right now about the GOP in Ohio.

“No. 1 alive and well. Secondly: it’s Trump’s party. And third: you see these divisions within the Republican Party – in a very similar way, you see divisions within the Democratic Party.”

'It's just not clear to me that Democrats are rejecting the so-called insiders the way they have been on the Republican side.'

While Newhouse said he doesn’t see as much Democratic interest in this primary, he’ll be watching Democratic turnout in the special election in August for the Congressional seat that was occupied by Republican Pat Tiberi.

In several other such races, Newhouse says Republican voters were overwhelmed by Democratic turnout.

“It is that kind of disparity that we’re seeing in these special elections across the county, from my home state of Kansas to Pennsylvania – you’re seeing Democratic enthusiasm go through the roof,” Newhouse said.

'For those of you who like negative advertising, you're in for a real treat.'

Early Predictors

Stats throughout this early voting period that began April 10 seemed to suggest Democrats were very interested in the six-way race for the nomination for governor. But Kondik says that’s not necessarily the case.

“There are more Democratic ballots returned than Republican ones, which maybe suggests that there’s more interest in the Democratic side or what have you, but I don’t know if that really means anything,” Kondik said.

And Newhouse said this primary is just the start of the journey toward the November vote. 

“We have a long ways to go. This is a classic midterm election, it’s going to be – for those of you who like negative advertising, you’re in for a real treat.”

Both experts say that what happens this fall will be interesting to watch, but likely won’t give any major hints about what might happen in Ohio or nationwide in 2020.

Karen is a lifelong Ohioan who has served as news director at WCBE-FM, assignment editor/overnight anchor at WBNS-TV, and afternoon drive anchor/assignment editor in WTAM-AM in Cleveland. In addition to her daily reporting for Ohio’s public radio stations, she’s reported for NPR, the BBC, ABC Radio News and other news outlets. She hosts and produces the Statehouse News Bureau’s weekly TV show “The State of Ohio”, which airs on PBS stations statewide. She’s also a frequent guest on WOSU TV’s “Columbus on the Record”, a regular panelist on “The Sound of Ideas” on ideastream in Cleveland, appeared on the inaugural edition of “Face the State” on WBNS-TV and occasionally reports for “PBS Newshour”. She’s often called to moderate debates, including the Columbus Metropolitan Club’s Issue 3/legal marijuana debate and its pre-primary mayoral debate, and the City Club of Cleveland’s US Senate debate in 2012.