After months after debating the state of each of the various campaigns (who’s ahead, who’s taken critical misteps, who’s winning or losing), we enter the next phase of the media campaign cycle: the post-election analysis (who’s ahead, who’s taken critical misteps, who’s winning or losing… the next election).  Talk about a nice change of pace, huh?  Yes, trying to apply 2015 results to a future election a year away is long on rhetoric, short on actual historical predictive values.  But there are trends you can see that, if they hold, can foretell where the parties are heading in future elections.  If 2015 is a trend and not an anomaly, then the Ohio Democratic Party had a very respectable showing.

Nationally, the punditry is writing yet again another story about how Democrats get “creamed” in off-year elections due to poor turnout compared to Republicans.  Citing Kentucky as the latest example (a Commonwealth that has already largely turned more red than purple), the punditry declares this even though Democrats won two out of five statewide races with a third incredibly close.  However, while this could easily have been said about Ohio last year, that’s not the case for this year.

David Pepper vs. the RNC

One of the biggest winners last night was the Ohio Democratic Party and David Pepper’s Main Street Initative.  As he and former Secretary of State candidate/former State Senator Nina Turner has traveled the state preaching that there’s no such thing as an “off year” election, his recent Main Street Initiative in supporting a new generation of local candidates to start building a bench statewide has arguable successes, especially when compared to the pre-election crowing by the RNC and Senator Rob Portman’s campaign.

On Election Day, the Cleveland Plain Dealer, had a story about the RNC crowing about how it has 20 people doing GOTV field work on the ground here in Ohio (note: the RNC is building its Ohio field operation independently of the Kasich-aligned Ohio Republican Party) since June.  The GOP argument was that they were doing what the Obama campaign had done well in 2011 while the DNC has yet to staff a field operation in Ohio (just as the RNC had erroneously failed to do leading into 2012.)  But Henry Gomez pointed out that while the RNC was doing its field work around 2016, the Ohio Democratic Party was focusing on the 2015 elections as way to rebuild the party and build its bench.

The RNC field staff in Ohio actually went out of their way to highlight one race in particular as evidence of where they were targeting:

On Saturday, Oct. 24, the RNC and Portman teams made more than 41,000 “voter contacts” – door knocks and telephone calls – across the state, Secaur said.

That day in Lorain, team leader Brian Barnes worked with Jessie Tower, the GOP candidate for mayor, and two campaign volunteers. Armed with a smartphone app and elections data, they targeted “hard” Republicans, “soft” Democrats and independents.

So, how did the RNC’s efforts in Lorain play out?

Lorain Mayor's Race

The RNC’s candidate came in a distant third, receiving 20% of the votes the incumbent Democratic candidate got.  That is what the RNC’s supposed “superior” early ground game in Ohio did…. dead last with only 13% of the vote.

Meanwhile, Pepper successfully defended the mayoral seats in Akron, Toledo, Massillon, Elyria, Stow, Springfield, Warren, Parma and Marietta while capturing the Mayor’s Office and sweeping the contested city council seats in the battleground city of Chillicothe. We also saw new Democrats elected to local offices such as:

  • Kirsten Gail, Euclid City Council President, won the open Euclid mayoral race.
  • Carrie Arblaster to Tipp City Council.  She was the top vote getter in the council races there, outperforming at least one incumbent.
  • Kelsie Swindler was the only Democratic candidate for Wilmington City Council and won in her first bid for public office.
  • Although he did not ultimately prevail, Kelly Wicks in Bowling Green narrowly lost by only 554 votes in his first mayoral bid against incumbent Republican Richard Edwards in the first contested mayoral contest there since 1999.
  • Education policy wonk Stephen Dyer was elected to Green City Council.
  • Twenty-six year old incumbent Daniel Gordon was re-elected to Bowling Green City Council.
  • Democrats narrowly won the Stow Muncipal Court defeating former Republican State Senator turned independent Kevin Coughlin and Republican candidate and former Cuyahoga Falls Mayor Don Robart (whom ODP successfully targeted for defeat in 2013 over his support of SB 5).  It was another case study in how an effective early vote GOTV program helps Democrats win.

In contrast, the Ohio Republican Party is boasting about taking over the Newark City Council because they picked up a seat, thus making it evenly split between Democrats and Republicans, but giving the GOP the edge since they hold the tie-breaking City Council President seat.  However, it’s not like Newark is sitting in a sea of electoral blue and the GOP’s hold is pretty darn weak.

Two years ago, the Lucas County Democrats were split between two candidates for Mayor leaving an independent Collins and pro-SB 5/Kasich pal Mike Bell to emerge from the primary with no Democratic candidate in the general.   The Ohio Democratic Party threw its support behind Collins over his opposition to SB 5 and Bell’s public support of it and defeated Bell.  After Collins later died in office, Paula Hicks-Hudson, then the Council President, was elevated to acting Mayor.  The local and state Democratic parties were united behind her and easily defeated a field that included Collins’ widow and two ex-Mayors (one of whom was Bell) whom largely split the vote three-ways.  As a result, the Democrats hold the mayor’s office in Toledo and Toledo has elected its first African-American woman to be its mayor.

You’d be hard pressed to say that the GOP had a good night in Ohio at all.  So, for all the talk about Democrats getting killed in non-presidential year elections, Pepper can make a credible case that he’s turning Ohio into the exception to that rule. Granted, none of these results may sound like earth shattering elections, but given the need of a state party to rebuild from the local office up, the Ohio Democratic Party had a pretty good night and was able to build upon victories it had won in 2013 and expand upon them in a way that will help build its bench for state legislative, congressional and statewide elections in the future.