Politico

Biden puts Ohio in play


Joe Biden’s campaign is making Ohio a battleground again.

Buoyed by polls showing him leading President Donald Trump, Biden’s campaign boosted its TV advertising budget to $4.1 million for this month, nearly quadruple what he spent last month and two-thirds of his total ad budget for the state. The day after the first debate with Trump in Cleveland, Biden made his first appearance in Ohio on Wednesday as the Democratic presidential nominee.

A confluence of forces has made Ohio competitive again in the eyes of Democrats. The economy and health care amid the pandemic are bad. Trump is bleeding white working-class and suburban voters in polls. Conservatives in the state are warring with Republican Gov. Mike DeWine for locking down the state during the pandemic.

And DeWine’s Republican predecessor, John Kasich, is backing Biden.

“We’re going to win Ohio,” Sen. Sherrod Brown (D-Ohio) declared in an interview. “Biden is the most pro-worker nominee of either party in a generation.”

A pair of recent public polls show why Democrats are bullish. A Fox News survey conducted late last month showed Biden leading Trump in Ohio, 50 percent to 45 percent. And a mid-September Quinnipiac poll had them in a dead heat, 48 percent to 47 percent.

But Republicans are equally bullish about Trump’s chances in Ohio, which every Republican has carried to win the White House. Trump won it in 2016 by such an astonishing margin, 8 percentage points, that Democrats all but gave up on seriously contesting Ohio, long considered the ultimate bellwether state.

Republicans argue that Democrats are misreading the state. Trump has a unique appeal in Ohio, they say, and Biden’s record of approving trade deals that benefited China will haunt him, regardless of what the polls suggest.

“It’s impossible for Joe Biden to win Ohio,” said Bob Paduchik, a senior Trump adviser in Ohio, pointing to Biden’s votes to approve trade deals that benefited China and on which many blue-collar workers blame job losses. “Joe Biden voted for NAFTA and he’s soft on China. Whether you’re a farmer or a factory worker you know that’s a losing proposition for Ohio.”

Biden’s campaign acknowledges Trump has a deep connection to Ohio voters, especially white working-class and white voters who didn’t go to college. But it’s making the case through advertising and surrogates that Trump’s promises of job growth have fallen flat. They say the president is anti-worker, as evidenced by a new overtime rule that increased the salary threshold to earn overtime pay. Brown estimated the change affects 50,000 workers in the state.

And as hundreds of thousands of Ohioans remain out of work because of the pandemic, the government stopped issuing weekly $600 checks. Brown contended that workers would blame the cutoff on Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell and Trump.

The Biden campaign has made jobs a focal point of its attack on Trump. It launched its first major salvo against the president in an August TV ad that ran in the Akron media market after the president called for a boycott of Goodyear, a local company, because its management forbade workers from wearing political attire, including MAGA hats.

That Goodyear ad was relatively small, less than $12,000, according to the media tracking firm Advertising Analytics. The bulk of Biden campaign TV spending has been in Toledo and Youngstown. But this month, now that the campaign is flush with cash, it went up in the major media markets with large buys in what’s known as “the three Cs”: Cincinnati, Columbus and Cleveland.

For months, Trump owned the airwaves in Ohio and Biden spent relatively little. But as the polls continued to break Biden’s way, his campaign decided to make a bigger investment as a way to preserve his lead or to force Trump to spend dwindling resources to defend a state that he won in 2016 and cannot afford to lose in 2020.

Since June 1, Biden’s campaign has spent and reserved a total of $6.2 million in TV ad spending through the election compared with $13.7 million for Trump’s campaign, according to Advertising Analytics. Including outside allies, Trump’s side is on pace for $15 million worth of TV commercials and Biden will have spent $8 million by the end of the election.


Democrats are also accusing Trump of failing to deliver his promise to Lordstown residents when he told them in 2017 that manufacturing jobs “are all coming back” and “don’t sell your house.” That didn’t happen, and GM ultimately closed a plant there, leading Trump to blame the union and the state to recoup tax breaks from the company.

Before Tuesday’s debate in Cleveland, Trump and Ohio Republicans fashioned the jobs story in Lordstown as a rising success because Lordstown Motors is now producing the world’s first electric pickup truck at the old GM plant, and GM is partnering with the firm LG Chem to make electric vehicle batteries.

But the Democratic congressman who represents Lordstown, Tim Ryan, said Trump is trying to take credit for harnessing the electric car market while ignoring the fact that his budgets called for eliminating tax credits for them. Trump’s campaign, however, said workers credit the president for fighting for their jobs.

The totality of Trump’s broken promises and the toll of Covid-19 are hurting the president in the state, Ryan said. He added that the president’s decision during the Cleveland debate to attack Biden’s son for a cocaine problem will play poorly in Ohio, where drug addiction has taken a toll on families.

“The suburbs are collapsing for Trump,” Ryan said. “Biden is doing better with African American voters, and he’s winning back the white working class. That’s why he’s up by 5 in the Fox poll.”

That Ohio poll, released last week, was the inverse of a Fox poll released in late September 2016 that showed Trump leading Hillary Clinton by the same overall margin, 5 percentage points. To Ryan’s point, Biden is doing better than Clinton by 8 percentage points among white voters with no college degree in the Fox polls. Biden and Democrats say that Black voters, some of whom stayed home in large numbers in 2016, are more enthusiastic about voting against Trump this time.

Republicans, however, think Trump’s field program and the intensity of his support are too much for Biden to overcome.

Scott Jennings, who ran Republican Mitt Romney’s 2012 campaign in the state, said Trump’s campaign field program more closely resembles President Barack Obama’s from eight years ago, when he had an extensive on-the-ground effort that included door-knocking canvassers and offices. Biden is more like Romney, Jennings said, because he’s entering the state relatively late. But the Biden campaign has virtually no physical presence because of the pandemic and he’s just heavily spending on air.

“Ohio is the safest of the Midwest states for Trump. But even I can read a survey,” Jennings said, alluding to the closeness of the race in the state.

He said Trump’s law-and-order and tough-on-China messages, however, are a better fit for the state than Biden, and voters are more culturally drawn to Trump beyond issues like trade.

“There are a lot of rural voters,” Jennings said. “And people forget Ohio has a huge section of Appalachian territory and this is Trump’s strongest area of the country.”

State Rep. John Becker, who represents the Cincinnati suburbs, said the strength of Trump’s support was on display last month in a massive interstate car parade that looped into the neighboring states of Indiana and Kentucky. Becker said he’s confident Trump will win, but he’s concerned with the tough economic conditions.

“When the economy is bad, people want to kick out the party in power. Republicans run this state. We own it,” Becker said.

In an unexpected twist, however, Becker blames DeWine and his coronavirus restrictions for the recession, a charge the governor’s spokesman denies. Becker tried to impeach DeWine and, after that failed, unsuccessfully tried to have him arrested for alleged acts of terrorism and violating civil liberties due to the coronavirus restrictions.

DeWine’s office said Becker was being ridiculous.

Democratic strategist Daniel van Hoogstraten, an adviser to the For Our Future super PAC that began organizing in the state before the pandemic, said the Republican dysfunction and Trump’s leadership failures will cost him in Ohio.

“Ohio is ground zero for Trump’s broken promises,” Hoogstraten said. “There’s a path for Biden in Ohio.”

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