After tough election, Ohio Democrats chart course for 2024
Rep. Tim Ryan saw only one pathway to beating J.D. Vance and overcoming Republicans' advantage in the U.S. Senate race.
- Seeking to attract centrist and right-leaning voters, Ryan dissed fellow Democrats, aligned with former President Trump's policies and finished the campaign trail at a shooting range.
The result: Ryan did narrow the gap from Trump's eight-point win in 2020 — by little more than a single percentage point.
- The Ohio Democratic Party faces a grim reality following its latest electoral drubbing.
Why it matters: A state once famous as a purple bellwether is now firmly red and has been all but abandoned by Democrats' national apparatus.
- Voters side with Ohio Democrats on several hot-button issues like abortion and gun control, but the one-sided electoral results mean Democratic office-holders have little power to shape public policy or thwart roadblocks like partisan gerrymandering.
What they're saying: Chairperson Elizabeth Walters tells Axios the state party was not in ideal shape when she took over in early 2021.
- Despite further losses in 2022 amid sagging voter turnout, Walters credits Ryan for eliciting GOP spending here that may have aided Democrats' success elsewhere.
- "Ohio really was the dam that stopped the red wave from crashing into Congress," she contends.
- Democrats also picked up a congressional seat for the first time in the state since 2008, which Walters, alluding to a famous President Biden quote, called "a big f***ing deal."
Yes, but: Even that triumph may be short-lived — Republicans' redrawing of congressional districts ahead of 2024 may put Democratic incumbents at a disadvantage.
The other side: David Niven, associate professor of political science at the University of Cincinnati and former Democratic Party speech writer, tells us that moral victories do not overshadow "another disastrous result."
What we're watching: The shifting political landscape puts U.S. Sen. Sherrod Brown, one of the party's last remaining bright spots in Ohio, in a precarious position for re-election in 2024.
- The national party is expected to take a more active role here to defend Brown's seat.
- A state ballot issue to protect abortion rights is reportedly in the works and could likewise renew voter enthusiasm from the left.
Meanwhile, Ohio Democrats are back to square one in recruiting a new crop of statewide candidates.
- Niven suggested the example of Pennsylvania's John Fetterman, a former small-town mayor with an unconventional, "everyman" style headed to the Senate.
- Future candidates floated in recent days include a trio of mayors: Cincinnati's Aftab Pureval, Cleveland's Justin Bibb and Chillicothe's Luke Feeney, who was featured at the 2016 Democratic National Convention.
What's next: Walters says the party awaits the release of precinct-level election data, which might give Democrats a clue of where to gain additional voters in 2024.
- "We have our work cut out for us to continue to move the fight forward."
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