Wednesday, November 08, 2006

The 2006 Election, or, why Ohio is Paradigmatic of Broader Shifts

For those not familiar with daily political life, we're witnessing a nother shift in the cycle that is Ohio politics. Ohio isn't just a swing-state in the standard, presidential-election sense of "Ohio could go either way, and it's decision will be central to X's victory." Ohio is a swing state in every sense of the word, being fully aware of which politician will help Ohio the best.

The problem is, Ohio is schizoid. It's the only state that is in the top 10 in both population and agricultural production. It has an extremely industrialized (former rust belt) North/Northeast, and an extremely rural South (along with Cincinnati and Dayton, which are...different). Thus, you often see the urban centers voting one way, and the rural areas voting another. Sometimes they can join (like in '92, when they voted for Clinton because the first Bush had killed both industry/employment in Ohio, as well as crucifying farmers in the economy, albeit not always intentionally, and '96, when they kept him because he'd helped the economy both in rural and urban areas). However, Ohio jumps back and forth, as evidenced in 2000 and 2004, when it went back to the Republicans.

But again, given Ohio's schizophrenic identity, that's a misleading fact. In 2004, Ohio's electoral map was cleanly blue in the northern third of the state, and cleanly red (barring Columbus) in the southern 2/3. This was primarily because Bush et al were able to appeal to the extremely social conservatives in Ohio, and in doing so, the rural areas, again with the help of Cincinnati and Dayton (which, for purposes of brevity, are in many ways rural-minded people in cities), pushed the state republican, over the discontent of the Northern, industrialized, pro-labor parts of the state.

So why does all of this matter? Are we really seeing a shift, just because Ohio elected a Democrat governor, and elected Democrat Sherrod Brown to the Senate over incumbent Republican Mike Dewine?


Many Ohioans have become tired of the war, which much of the country has. However, many Ohioans have DIED in the war, as well, in rates slightly above the national average. In addition, Bush has not only not improved the economy in the urban areas...his efforts to move Republicans on social issues probably reached its apex in 2004, when Ohio banned same-sex marriage. Now, Ohioans are seeing an economy that isn't helping them much, and the charges of corruption and scandals like the Foley and the Delay scandals have turned many of those temporary-republicans against the party. The social conservativism which they themselves applaud was seemingly betrayed by corrupt and immoral politicians, and this, combined with the war (which Dewine never questioned and always openly supported without reservation), has led to a shift. We can see this in the electoral results for the senate and in the map for the race for governor. While Ohio isn't overwhelmingly "blue" the way New York is, the entire eastern half of the state, including the heavily-rural Southeast, has swung back to the Democratic politicians. Nothing has changed in the north - it has continued to vote the way it did in previous elections, both in presidential years and in off-years. The shift, just as in 1992, is in the south (and especially the southeast), and just as in 1992, it has led to a swing back to the Democrats.

I'm not going to predict that Democrats will never lose in Ohio again (I'm not Tom Delay, who assured us Republicans would never lose control of the government in 2004). However, this shift matters. In a state that goes back and forth, it has become clear that the proverbial "middle America" has grown tired of the Republican routine for the time being, and is willing to see a change. It could or could not make a difference in 2008. Nonetheless, hopefully Democrats will be heartened by these signs, and do then what they did this year - show that they are ready to win back the government and appeal to Ohioans, both urban and rural.