How would a modern strategist market Buckeye State's bygone leaders?

Ohio has been known as the cradle of presidents, laying claim to eight in all. But those long-gone leaders are largely a grim, bearded lot who don’t seem very marketable today. Maybe that’s why the nation hasn’t looked our way in 100 years, since the 1920 election of Warren Harding.

So we asked Alex Hastie, host of the history podcast Ohio v. the World (his current season focuses on the state’s role in presidential politics), and Columbus political consultant Whitney Smith of Civili Strategies to give Ohio’s favorite sons some historical context and fresh spin.

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William Henry Harrison

Hastie: Harrison was the first candidate to give a campaign speech, here in Columbus, actually. He thrived on crowds and rallies. 

Smith: I would play up his war record: “He’s Battle-Tested.” That would counter his negatives of age and health. 

Ulysses S. Grant, 1868, 1872

Hastie: He waged war on the KKK in the 1870s. Also, Grant was a global celebrity, so President Trump is not our first celebrity president.

Smith: I would go with a theme of “Equality, Unity, Peace.” It’s interesting his slogan in 1868 was “Let Us Have Peace.” If that were used today, he’d be called a radical socialist.

Rutherford B. Hayes, 1876

Hastie: Hayes did something I always thought Joe Biden should consider: He promised to serve only one term.  

Smith: Everyone wants to be on the side of the winner, so I would focus on the fact Republicans won the Civil War and wrap Hayes in that narrative. 

James A. Garfield, 1880

Hastie: He’s probably our smartest president. Garfield would stick out in this anti-intellectual time we live in.

Smith: So long after the Civil War, I’d go with the idea that if a Democrat won, all the good of the past 15 years would be undone. 

Benjamin Harrison, 1888

Hastie: A little-known story is his leadership during an 1892 cholera epidemic that killed hundreds of thousands in Asia and Europe. Only nine cases were seen here. 

Smith: If I were running a campaign against him, I know what I would say: “Big Spending Ben” or “Billion Dollar Ben.” During his presidency, federal spending reached $1 billion.  

William McKinley, 1896, 1900

Hastie: You could say he was the president who Made America Great. In the 1920s, Americans looked back at the McKinley years as the good old days, kind of how some today look back on the 1950s. 

Smith: Since McKinley campaigned from his porch, I would focus on how issues affect each paycheck, each household. 

William Howard Taft, 1908 

Hastie: Facebook and Twitter would be Taft’s nightmare. He thought public opinion should be filtered through thoughtful representatives and deliberated over time. 

Smith: Taft wasn’t seen as his own person for how heavily he leaned on Theodore Roosevelt. I would focus on showing him as not beholden to anyone. 

Warren G. Harding, 1920 

Hastie: A century ago, the country was emerging from a global pandemic, in a recession and experiencing racial violence. Harding is underrated for his response to all three. Scandals wrecked his legacy.

Smith: Harding had a common problem among career politicians: vagueness. I would develop clear talking points for him.