Northeast Ohio Democrats Work To Turn Enthusiasm Into Votes

A group of Northeast Ohio Democratic leaders rally in East Cleveland
Cuyahoga County Democratic Party Chair Shontel Brown, second from right, and East Cleveland Councilman Nathaniel Martin, right, rally local Democrats. [Nick Castele / ideastream]
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This November, Democrats have a chance to come back from a 2016 election defeat that stunned them. The White House may not be up for grabs, but a Democratic Senate seat and all statewide offices are at stake.

In local meeting halls across Northeast Ohio, party members are trying to turn excitement into turnout—so that they’re not caught by surprise again. Meanwhile, many local Republicans are rallying around President Trump as Election Day nears. 

At a meeting of the Bay Village Democratic club a couple weeks ago, party enthusiasts and some candidates packed into a meeting hall at a local park for a corn roast.

Local Democrats have experienced a burst of new life since 2016, according to the club president, after a number of politically energized women got involved.

Misty Elek was one of them. She said Hillary Clinton’s defeat in 2016 spurred her to do more.

“That anger that I felt, I couldn’t just sit there and let it fester,” Elek said. “I needed to put it into action and do something positive with it.” 

Now she’s helping to raise money for Democratic candidates and causes, she said. She’s working on a women’s rally scheduled for later this month.

“I’m not just going to sit around and believe my candidate’s going to win just because I think they’re the strongest candidate,” she said.

After Donald Trump’s victory, Elek found a place to commiserate and organize with sympathetic neighbors: a group called the Bay Village Nasty Women. It’s a reference to the words Trump used to attack Clinton in one of the debates.

As for the issues that motivate Elek: “For me personally, it’s women’s rights,” she said. “Protecting women’s reproductive rights. I have a young daughter that I definitely think of, and I think of her future. I also believe in pay equity.”

Bay Village is politically mixed but leans Republican. The city voted twice for George W. Bush, narrowly for John McCain and more heartily for Mitt Romney.

But two years ago, Hillary Clinton won 52 percent of the vote, notching victories in every Bay Village precinct.

Cynthia White said she thinks anti-Trump Republicans crossed over to the Democratic side. She wasn’t sure if they’ll do it again.

She said she’s out knocking on doors of Democrats and independents, talking about the environment and ECOT, the now-defunct online charter school that inflated its enrollment numbers and owes the state millions.

“I’m sensing a lot of enthusiasm for voting in the midterms,” White said. “But I just think you can’t, from our experience in 2016, you can’t count on anything.”

That resolve not to take turnout for granted was evident on the other side of Cuyahoga County a few nights later in East Cleveland, where Clinton won 95 percent of the vote.

Shontel Brown, the chair of the Cuyahoga County Democratic Party, rallied a small group of grassroots leaders in the city’s library auditorium.

“We are approaching this election as if it were a presidential,” Brown said.

But she didn’t mention President Trump. Instead, she ticked off a list of issues—such as healthcare, public education, collective bargaining and living wages.

“Cuyahoga County is the largest Democratic county in this state,” she said. “If Ohio is a swing state, we are the pendulum, all right?”

The speech hit on some issues that one attendee, Patricia Lewis, said matter to her.

“Healthcare, benefits, so that they can take care of themselves medically, their families,” Lewis said. “Jobs, they’re not coming to these areas.”

But Lewis and other Democrats at the meeting expressed worry about turnout. She said East Cleveland’s depressed economy could dampen enthusiasm.

“Because Democrats don’t get out and vote,” Lewis said, “and they’re so discouraged by candidates, actual candidates, not just the issues, the actual candidates, that they’re not voting. I think people are just tired of candidates. I think they, I think they want proof.”

The message in East Cleveland was meant to excite not just people in the room, but those outside, as Democratic activists encouraged one another to make sure their neighbors go vote.

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