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By Kirk Clay

Analyzing Ohio’s Voters and Making Final Four Predictions

I have to admit, I love it when the March Madness season comes around. There is something about completing bracket sheets for both the Women’s and Men’s NCAA Basketball Tournaments and developing a strategy for my favorite teams to go all the way. The best part is identifying all of the opportunities for “cinderellas” or “underdogs” to win games they are not supposed to win.

As we get closer to the final four teams and realize that there are simply too many long shots for our favorite teams to survive the entire tournament, we scrap the entire bracket and start all over again. The trick is to gather as many statistics as possible and choose the best path forward. Sometimes, we have to follow our heart and go with our gut instincts.

Watching the excitement of the “First Four” match up in Dayton reminded me of Ohio’s recent “Big Four” electoral impact events. I began to ask myself, “what did Representatives Kaptur, Kucinich, Schmidt, and the “Underdog” Congressional hopeful Joyce Beatty all have in common?” They all were affected by Congress’ abysmal 10% approval rating.

Does the results of their Congressional bids reflect the voters’ gut instincts? Clearly, there is a sentiment that Washington’s obstructive behavior–like the current fiasco over judicial vacancies, the stalled transportation bill, and the assault on women’s healthcare–will not be rewarded in 2012.

As our economy continues to recover and U.S. manufacturing is becoming this years “Cinderella story,” voters are becoming hopeful. Toledo added about 1,800 manufacturing jobs last year and more are coming this year with General Motors and Chrysler committing to hiring over 1,600 people by 2013. Correspondingly, unemployment has fallen to 7.9% and manufacturing now comprises 18.3 percent of Ohio’s economy. We now see that middle and working-class voters are rejecting the old strategy of “wining by demonizing the opposite party on a bumper sticker.” In November, they may counter 2010’s dysfunctional hate wave with a wave of “economically coherent” leaders.

To win the heartland, politicians have to revive Franklin Roosevelt’s “Lunch Pail / Hard Hat Coalition.” In fact, a modern coalition which includes progressive Whites, Latinos, African Americans, Asians, Native Americans, Unions, and Young Voters is the best path forward.

Remember the 2006 elections when Governorships and Senate seats flipped to blue in Ohio, Colorado, Virginia, Pennsylvania, and Missouri?  That was the “Lunch Pail Coalition” in action. A significant factor in the election outcomes were Voters of Color (VOC). For example, look at Ohio’s Cuyahoga County.  That county, which includes Cleveland, was 12% of the vote share while VOC were 14% of the electorate.

This dynamic has played a significant role in Ohio where African American mayors have been elected in the seven major cities of Cleveland, Columbus, Cincinnati, Toledo, Dayton, Youngstown, and Mansfield. Ohio voters have always been able to come together through a “Lunch Pail / Hard Hat Coalition” and elect candidates of color.

Looking forward to November 2012, I remain hopeful.  Although the 2010 census data shows Ohio losing two Electoral College votes, cities like Columbus grew by 10.6% to 787,033. This increase gives Columbus more than 145,000 “key” Voters of Color. That means the Democratic Primary winner Joyce Beatty, who is the first African American Congressperson from central Ohio to make it to the primary, can win in November.

Beatty has already demonstrated the impact of the “Lunch Pail Coalition” in Ohio’s new 3rd Congressional District by mobilizing the second largest VOC voting block of Ohio’s sixteen congressional districts. Her strategy to embrace the heart of the coalition by targeting high performing VOC precincts like the Southside, Northeast, and Eastside gave her strong voter support in precincts like 35-B, 17-F and 28-E. What’s more, Beatty won all but one of the twenty highest-turnout precincts in the district and received 15,231 votes district wide.

As the big dance towards November begins, it’s important to keep in mind that middle and working-class voters are not interested in obstruction by Congress. Why should they?  Ohio has increased its manufacturing jobs by about 4 percent since June, 2009. That’s 24,600 jobs for working families. Imagine how many more new jobs could be created if Congress worked together?  As Beatty said on election night “our voice will be part of doing new things.” We want our political leaders to get something done.

I agree.  Voters have little patience for bumper sticker solutions. We always root for the underdogs, even if that means voting for a slate of bracket busters. That’s popping the clutch.

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Kirk Clay is Senior Advisor at PowerPAC