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Editorial: To win again, Ohio Democrats must remember their roots

“David Leland, a former state party chair, has a succinct recipe: money, messaging and ground game. Above all, the work must be local. Ohio has 88 counties, and Democrats need to be visibly involved in the community in every one.”

For those Ohioans who are tired of languishing under one-party rule, the feeble performance of Democrats in the Nov. 3 election is extremely discouraging. For the Ohio Democratic Party, it must be a call to change.

Party Chairman David Pepper has taken the necessary first step, by announcing that he will retire at the end of the year. After six years of steadily losing ground under Pepper’s leadership, whether or not he can be blamed, the party needs a reset.

What can Democrats do, in a state where Donald Trump won just as handily in 2020, and with even more votes, as in 2016? Where no Democrat has won a statewide office other than judgeships since 2006? Where an unconscionable act of gerrymandering in 2010 left Republicans with more than their share of districts so safe that even the most extreme ideologues win easily?

One answer is simple, though not necessarily easy: Engage with voters personally, driving home what traditionally made people describe themselves as Democrats. First and foremost is a commitment to fairness – a good education, equal treatment under the law and a shot at a good job for all people, regardless of what they look like or where they come from.

Sen. Sherrod Brown, Ohio’s most popular Democrat, has been consistent and convincing in his emphasis on supporting hard-working people and what he calls the dignity of work. He surely has some good advice for Democrats willing to listen.

David Leland, a former state party chair, has a succinct recipe: money, messaging and ground game. Above all, the work must be local. Ohio has 88 counties, and Democrats need to be visibly involved in the community in every one. 

It seems hard to imagine, in an election in which half of the country was desperate to vote the president out of office, that Democrats didn’t muster the enthusiasm to reach out to every one of those potential voters. But Cincinnati Enquirer reporter Jessie Balmert wrote in The Dispatch on Nov. 22, “In 2020, Republicans had a better ground game in Ohio, and it wasn’t close.”

Making the case shouldn’t be difficult. The average Ohioan has not prospered under 14 years of GOP dominance. Republicans’ answer to seemingly every problem – tax cuts – hasn’t brought jobs and prosperity other than to those already doing well. In 2018, while the median household income nationwide was $60,294, it was $54,533 in Ohio.

Ohioans are less likely than the national average to have college degrees and they’re older, which reflects the fact that young people are leaving to find opportunity.

Republicans’ refusal to invest – in higher education, in child care, in the clean energy industries of the future – leaves Ohioans with fewer options and poorer prospects, lacking the skills for the good jobs of the 21st century.

So why don’t more Ohioans vote for Democrats? Possibly because Democrats, when they were in power, didn’t deliver that much better on those essential investments, and possibly because Democrats refuse to recognize that to win, they must earn some votes from conservatives. That means allowing candidates, especially for local offices, to deviate from the ideologically pure stances that have become litmus tests. This becomes even more important as Ohio grows more conservative.

Just as Democrats no longer can count on votes from blue-collar workers, they also cannot take for granted Black voters and other traditional supporters. House Minority Leader Emelia Sykes was furious to hear 2020 strategists fret about winning the votes of “suburban wine moms” – presumed to be white – while her research showed that tens of thousands of Black women who have moved to suburbs were not registered to vote and had not been asked about it.

“How can we not be going after those votes?” Sykes asked.

In recent decades, Republicans have won by appealing to emotion and ideology, especially when it comes to abortion and a largely imaginary threat to gun rights. To win over voters who aren’t themselves extreme ideologues, Democrats can talk about the pocketbook issues that everyone cares about: Can my kids get a good education and make a good life without having to move away?

The Dispatch does not suggest that only Democrats can provide good government. But the conservative Republicans who have dominated Ohio politics for more than a decade have failed Ohioans over and over. We need better options.

Read the original article here.

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