Local Politics: Republicans dominate 'battleground' Ohio

William Hershey
Jane Timken

Ohio still is considered a premier battleground state in presidential elections, even if Republican Donald Trump clearly defeated Democrat Hillary Clinton in 2016, winning nearly 52 percent of the vote to almost 44 percent for Clinton.

In presidential elections from 1988 to 2016, Republicans carried the state four times (1988, 2000, 2004 and 2016) and so did Democrats (1992, 1996, 2008 and 2012).

A look below Ohio's political covers reveals, however, that since 1990 the state has been anything but a battleground in races for state executive offices, including governor and lieutenant governor, treasurer, secretary of state, auditor and attorney general.

Color Ohio bright red for Republican, with Democratic blue barely visible.

In seven elections for these offices since 1990, Republicans swept five times, winning every office in 1994, 1998, 2002, 2010 and 2014.

Democrats almost swept in 2006 when they won everything but auditor.

The GOP sweeps didn't happen by accident. A key factor was the defeat of Republican James A. Rhodes in the 1986 governor's race by Democratic incumbent Dick Celeste.

Rhodes, who died at age 91 in 2001, already had been elected to four, four-year terms by then — the only Ohioan to achieve that milestone. The 1986 election was his last hurrah.

During the Rhodes era, his interests often took precedence over what was good for the party as a whole, and other candidates suffered.

That changed in 1988 when Robert Bennett, a veteran of rough-and-tumble Cleveland politics, became Ohio Republican chairman. Bennett was an independent-minded master at assembling winning slates of Republican candidates.

He proved it in 1990. Three well-known Republicans wanted to run for governor: George Voinovich, Mike DeWine and Bob Taft.

Bennett, who died at 75 in 2014, found a place for all of them. Voinovich won the governor's race, with DeWine as his lieutenant governor running mate. Taft defeated incumbent Democrat Sherrod Brown for secretary of state.

Unlike Bennett, current Ohio Republican chairwoman, Jane Timken, is clearly identified with one Republican, President Trump, who backed her for the job. Timken ousted the incumbent chairman, Matt Borges. Borges, like Timken, was identified with one officeholder, Gov. John Kasich. Kasich had been a Trump critic and that helped doom Borges' tenure.

Timken's challenge next year will be to continue Republican sweeps. Democrats can hope the Trump connection backfires and makes their candidates winners — for a change.

William Hershey is a former Washington correspondent and Columbus bureau chief for theAkron Beacon Journal and a former Columbus bureau chief for theDayton Daily News.