LIMA – Last year, Joe Monbeck lost his race for the 84th Ohio House District. He faced neither an incumbent nor an established name. As a political freshman, he challenged another freshman.
Even so, his chances of winning were zero. Monbeck is a democrat.
“Nobody is surprised that a Republican won the district,” said Monbeck. “I threw my name in the hat because I think it’s too important to just let people have it.”
According to demographic, cultural, and voting patterns, it’s hard to find a more conservative location than northwest Ohio. Over the decades, the Republican Party’s central ideals – faith, freedom, and family – have shaped many of its institutions.
But as the political climate fluctuates up and down, many of today’s Democrats see chaos as an opportunity to tear down longstanding rifts.
Rural versus urban
The voting pattern between urban and rural voters is well documented. Cities – full of younger college graduates – lean to the left. Rural areas – full of older working class workers – lean to the right.
The same trend can be seen in Ohio. A total of 31 out of 88 Ohio counties (including Allen, Hancock, Hardin, Mercer, and Van Wert) are fully Republican controlled. By comparison, 15 of Ohio’s 20 largest cities have Democratic mayors.
But rust-belt cities like Lima don’t always fall in such straight lines. Part of it is intentional. Lima’s city charter requires that all local races be impartial. “D” s and “R” s are not even allowed on the ballot.
As a result, local city politics can be a little more complicated as the races are supposed to be impartial. And with the local Republican Party consolidating its coalition at the county level, the local Democratic Party has little strength to muster, as most of the left-wing political resources normally used to combat conservative gains have been used by “non-partisan” street races.
This can be seen in Mayor David Berger’s own political coalition, which he formed in 1989 and then consisted of Republicans and Democrats. Berger, a registered democrat, often advocates democratic issues and sometimes publicly supports democratic candidates.
A number of registered Democrats also sit on Lima City Council. Indeed, the 2019 elections pushed the council to the left as two registered Democrats, Peggy Ethora and Tony Wilkerson, replaced two registered Republicans, Rebecca Kreher and Sam McLean.
However, actual political candidates willing to run with a democratic affiliation are few and far between.
“We have gotten to a point in Allen County where skilled people won’t take the time or want to spend their money or other people’s money when they think it’s a hopeless cause,” said Jeff Rex, chairman of the Democratic Party Allen County Party. “It’s frustrating to look at the ballot and see that there is little to no competition here. I talk to a lot of people and try to get them to work. “
Ohio Libertarian Party chairman Harold Thomas said the third party has seen similar struggles to pool resources at the grassroots level when the majority is so powerful. In the case of the libertarians, neither Democrats nor Republicans are innocent of restricting political competition.
“People are interested in politics, but they are not interested in grassroots work to get the political system up and running. There are understandable reasons. People have other responsibilities, ”said Thomas.
By comparison, Allen County Republican Party leader Keith Cheney said he didn’t want to “give away the playbook” when selecting candidates, but quality is high on the list of qualities they are looking for.
“I think it depends on the quality and qualifications of each individual,” said Cheney. “We’re really lucky to have the county officials we have.”
Those who end up running as opposing parties – such as Monbeck – often do so only to be heard and to find like-minded people to drum up support for a future fight.
“It helps to improve the conversation,” said Monbeck. “My opponent was talking about things she (current State Representative Susan Manchester) would not have talked about.”
The view from all over the country
After the 2019 election, the state democrats drove a victory lap. Kentucky, currently a redder state than Ohio, had elected a Democratic governor in place of incumbent Matt Bevin.
During a conference call with reporters earlier this week, Ohio Democratic Party Chairman David Pepper highlighted the role of the Cincinnati suburbs in replacing the controversial governor as Trump’s sentiment has turned sour in the suburbs. He believes the same is possible in Ohio, and the Ohio Democrats have put money into digital ads through their Main Street Initiative to make a profit in such areas.
When asked about flipping rural areas in the 2019 election, Pepper pointed to an opinion that Democratic challengers say they heard from voters.
“It’s just not going well here and people want a change,” said Pfeffer. “They were tired of not keeping up.”
Similar ideas were found in some of the exit polls conducted by The Lima News, and it could be argued that some local 2019 election results revolve around the same topic, making it difficult for incumbents to win.
In Auglaize County, Monbeck cited the work of independent write-in candidate Brandon Terrill in Wapakoneta, who ended up winning around 30% of the vote against incumbent Mayor Tom Stinebaugh as an example. In Allen County, the desire for change was also seen in the results of the Lima City Council President. Ultimately, incumbent John Nixon won another term, but his challenger Josiah Mathews received 36% of the vote despite dropping out early and not campaigning.
“As an outside party, the Democrats can serve as a loyal opposition, challenging Republicans on a variety of issues, including health care, gun control and economic growth in the state,” said Robert Alexander, professor of political science at Ohio Northern University, in an email.
Senator Sherrod Brown, the only Democrat to win a nationwide ticket in 2018, highlighted his “dignity of work” message to turn some working class voters around in 2020.
“It’s also about what (state Republicans) have been doing in these communities, and it’s not very much. They don’t seem to care, ”said Brown. “The Republicans in Columbus only care about Lima during the elections.”
On the spot, Brown had a vote distribution roughly 16 points lower in Allen County than other statewide candidates, which meant that some voters voted for him over his Republican challenger. In other words, the Democrats have had some success in the county.
Brown has since encouraged Democratic presidential candidates to embed the message of “dignity of work” and include progressive labor policies such as raising the minimum wage and restoring overtime for white-collar workers on their platforms.
“There is little interest from investors and the state government in helping Lima and helping Ottawa, Van Wert, Paulding and Defiance. I find it a little ironic that this part of Ohio is getting more and more Republican, ”said Brown.
In response, local Republicans have pointed to the economic gains seen as evidence of working class support under President Donald Trump’s administration.
“I worry about the individuals. Are the families doing better than they were three years ago? Look at the economy and the unemployment rate (4.1% in Allen County), ”Cheney said. “Nobody can argue with the numbers. Numbers are facts. “
Basing on results
No matter where someone stands on the political spectrum, it’s hard to argue that today’s political theater does a lot to get someone to agree on something as victimhood and overt political shame become the norm. Taylor has seen such polarization stall conversations about some libertarian ideas. If one vote deviates from the party lines, that is a win for the other side.
“Basically, we all want the same thing – good public schools, good roads, very adequate fire and police departments, good drinking water. What we don’t agree on is how to finance this, ”said Rex. “Now we can’t get around to talking about it because we’re too busy talking to the extremes of the parties.”
How the local Republican Party is responding to the Democrats’ efforts to gain a foothold in Allen County, Cheney summed up pretty well.
“The results speak for themselves.”
It is up to the voters to decide how they feel about it.
Illustration by David Trinko | The Lima News With seven out of ten district voters voting for Republicans in the 2018 statewide election, Democrats can feel outnumbered.
Can Democrats Squeeze Votes From Northwest Ohio?
Contact Josh Ellerbrock at 567-242-0398.