Ohio has long been known as a “swing state” in American electoral politics, and for good reason; throughout much of the state the average Democrat is a conservative Christian gun owner who supports unions, while the average Republican is a conservative Christian gun owner who may or may not. But while the distinction between the two major parties may be remarkably thin in the Buckeye State (even more so than nationwide), the loyalty tends to be as hot as for the local high school football team, but it’s a pretty even split.
But this year—with control of the White House and Congress on the line—the response in Ohio has been, well, crickets chirping. Ohio doesn’t seem to give a rat’s “patooty” about this year’s elections. And maybe there’s a lot to be learned from this.
My observations are entirely anecdotal, so let me give you a window into my perspective. I was born and raised in Toledo, a union Democrat enclave. My wife and I left Ohio for fourteen years, living in various destinations (Pennsylvania, Virginia, and Florida) before returning at the end of 2007 with our son to raise him closer to family. We now reside in a rural community about an hour northeast of the state capitol of Columbus. The village we live near is an (extremely) liberal arts college community, plunked in the middle of an otherwise typical Ohio country County.
Given the time frame I have laid out, you can see that we have been here for two major election cycles. In 2008, Obama and McCain bumper stickers and signs were everywhere. Even in a rural County you couldn’t go a mile without seeing one, and some folks had twenty or thirty in their yards to show their support for their preferred candidates.
In 2010 Congress, the Governor’s mansion and George Voinovich’s Senate seat were on the line, and again, there were signs and bumper stickers everywhere. One local person was such an adamant Rob Portman supporter for Senate that he constructed a large hand-painted Portman sign probably 8-foot by 10-foot. Yes, Ohioans get into their politics, even if the distinction between the parties is minimal.
And in 2011 we had the Health Care Freedom Amendment and the repeal of the SB5 collective bargaining bill on the ballot, and once again there were plenty of signs and placards both for and against.
But this year, with presidential, Senatorial, and House seats on the line? I have seen one Mitt Romney sign in the window of a local business (very hard to see through the tinted glass), two Obama bumper stickers (I’m in a very liberal college village), and I have my Gary Johnson signs and bumper stickers. That’s it, other than a fair number of Ron Paul signs and stickers—and he won’t be on the ballot.
I haven’t seen a single sign for the Senate race that is supposed to be so critical for the balance of power since Sherrod Brown is considered a “vulnerable” Democrat.
Ohioans do not seem to care whether Democrats or Republicans control the Senate right now.
And with my area getting redistricted since Ohio lost a seat in the House, you would think that this House race would be hotly contested. But nothing. No signs or bumper stickers or on-the-street discussion. Not even in the primary. This is nothing like two years ago when Republican Bob Gibbs unseated Nancy Pelosi’s lap dog, Zack Space. (Yes, we had Representative Space, and I mean that on every level.) Now we are represented by John Boehner’s lap dog (ew!), a man who got the GOP nomination after the establishment came in and knee-capped the Tea Party favorite.
Getting back to the story, there were Gibbs and Space signs all over the place in 2010. Now I don’t even know who’s running, although I assume it is bobblehead Bob Gibbs versus some sort of Democrat. (In 2010 our District was a gerrymandered blob that went south from our area; now we are in a bizarre gerrymandered U-shaped district that extends north from Central Ohio nearly to Lake Erie. The reason I don’t know who’s running is I pulled a Libertarian ticket in the primary, which meant I didn’t see who the contestants might have been for either of the other parties—and I won’t waste my time finding out because I could care less and won’t vote for either.)
Two weeks ago we went to our annual end-of-the-summer retreat with friends on Lake Erie, and I remember our two-and-a-half hour drive from 2008. While I wasn’t counting at the time, my recollection is that we passed somewhere in the neighborhood of 500-1000 signs for Obama and McCain each.
This year? Not one for Obama, Romney, or Johnson. Nor were there any signs for the Senate race, Congressional races, State House or State Senate races, or even mayor or County Commissioner. It feels like the entire state has checked out of politics entirely.
Tomorrow I will explore the reasons why this disengagement has occurred.