Despite what my Ohio friends say, Trump gets the Buckeye state

Ohio friends and family can’t understand why I am keeping the Buckeye State in the electoral vote stack for Donald Trump in my handicapping of today’s presidential vote. And it may be that I am stuck in the past.

Born there, spent my first 20 years there and I can’t get over living in a congressional district that was Republican for more than 70 years, many of the representatives from the same family. So that has influenced where I think Ohio should go politically.

But I have listened to those living in Ohio and have read this book, trying to understand Ohio, and as the title says, the rest of America:

“Barnstorming Ohio: To Understand America.”

Written by David Giffels, a former columnist for the Akron Beacon Journal, the book came out this year, which might give it a short shelf life if it is only used to figure out the Trump-Biden election. But maybe people will read it to figure out what happens in the days, weeks and months ahead as we determine who won and how the nation will deal with that decision.

Giffels makes the point that you can’t ignore Ohio when trying to handicap who will win today’s election, as I have been doing the past few weeks. “Since 1896, Ohio’s voters have sided with the winner in twenty-nine of thirty-one presidential elections,” he writes. “No state has a higher percentage of accuracy. No Republican has ever won the presidency without winning Ohio. We are the only state to have a perfect record choosing the victor since 1964.”

My handicapping has Biden winning by one electoral vote (see chart below), which means I’m betting against Ohio. However, Giffels never comes down firmly for either the Democrats or the Republicans. He never says this candidate (Trump or Biden) will win. I think Giffels moves a bit toward Trump, but my final bet is on Biden to win it all despite where Ohio ends up.

As far as the second part of the book’s title — To Understand America – the book goes a long way in figuring out what we are all about in 2020. Closing auto factories in Lordstown, Ohio, even though Trump in 2017 said manufacturing jobs were “all coming back”? Reminds me of the jobs lost as Boeing shuts down operations in Washington State. Manufacturing jobs in many parts of the country aren’t coming back. That might mean a landslide against Trump. But UAW Local 1112 president David Green in Lordstown doesn’t quite see it that way. Trump will get some votes, but not “as many votes in this valley as he did then (2016), for sure.”

Soybean farmers hurt by Trump’s tariffs? Those tariffs also applied to apples, cherries and hay in Washington and to commodities grown in many states. Would a stubborn farmer abandon Trump? “I believe people in his cabinet understand the (farmers’) situation,” Giffels quotes a sixth-generation family farmer.

Malls and downtowns abandoned? That’s not just an Ohio problem, and the resurrection of downtowns — when it happens — means building what we expect America to look like, and that’s not Walmart. But will the breweries, bookstores, quaint antique shops and coffee bars replace the lost manufacturing jobs? And will Amazon come along quickly enough to buy your local empty mall and turn it into a “fulfillment center”? If enough people who fled years ago come back to run those boutique shops and Amazon warehouses, will that be enough to swing things Democratic? Or will Trump’s “law and order” litany to save downtowns keep things in his column?

Looking at all these issues, Giffels seems to find Ohio voters who chose Trump in 2016 and don’t seem likely to change their vote today. Maybe that’s because of Jim Traficant, who inured Ohio to a demagogue. The name was familiar to me as just another congressman who went to jail, but his antics might have been the ones that eased Ohio into Trump’s camp in 2016, and maybe 2020. Giffels quotes USA Today in 2016: “If Trump wins Ohio, he should thank Jim Traficant, who wrote the roadmap.” When on trial for racketeering, he offered an outlandish defense of “deny, deny, deny” what he had already confessed to that no one could believe except for the 12 men on the jury, who found him not guilty. From sheriff to congressman, “his greatest political talent was his ability to convince a marginalized constituency that he understood and cared about them in ways his opponent did not.” Later convicted on charges of racketeering, fraud, bribery and other corruption charges, he spent seven years in prison and died in 2014 when a tractor on his farm rolled over him.

All parts of America have marginalized people, but they don’t have Jim Traficant. Or they didn’t. A “Traficant” can come from anywhere, like New York City, to win an election and maybe a re-election.

Giffels never quite gets to that conclusion, no Trump wins, no Biden takes Ohio and the nation. What he does conclude is that Americans have reached a “crisis of empathy.”

“. . . whenever I talked to a Trump supporter, that person’s own certainty convinced me at least for the duration of the dialogue that he (Trump) would win a second term, and whenever I talked to an anti-Trump Ohioan, they expressed concern that I was right, even as they couldn’t conceive this happening again. To know people who voted for Donald Trump and not be able to comprehend how anyone could do such a thing is to confront the fact of our divide: a nation of people who cannot understand one another and who are losing reasons and opportunities to do so.”

A depressing place to end, but Giffels doesn’t. Instead, he turns to the buzzards at Hinckley, something I had forgotten in my 50 years outside of Ohio. Maybe they still do this, but in the 1960s, radio stations would announce when the buzzards where coming back to Hinckley, Ohio, sort of like the swallows of Capistrano. I never heard a reason for why the birds came to Hinckley and why on a certain date. Not until I read Giffels’ book. It seems that on Christmas Eve 1818, more than 500 men held a game drive, pushing all wildlife into a shrinking circle, killing 21 bears, 17 wolves, 300 deer and uncounted squirrels, turkeys, foxes, raccoons, etc. The men built fires, barbequed, bundled up some meat and went home, leaving the rest to rot. In the spring, the buzzards came, and they’ve been coming back ever since, looking for something they still believe is there.

What will we come looking for as we return in our four-year cycle? Strife that the other side won? Or will we get a start on ending our crisis of empathy? I’m not taking bets on that.

“You can’t go into Youngstown, Ohio, and tell everybody they’re going to be retrained and go work for Google or Apple. “

Michael Avenatti