The overriding good news of the 2020 election is that Joe Biden will be the next President of the United States and Kamala Harris will make history as the next Vice President. Democrats kept the U.S. House and may gain control of the U.S. Senate depending upon what happens in Georgia in January. Judge Jennifer Bruner won a seat on the Ohio Supreme Court. Our friends in Hamilton County elected two Democratic women to their County Commission and Democratic women as Sheriff and County Treasurer. In Clermont County, we saw an unprecedented level of volunteer activity despite the pandemic.
However Ohio did not contribute to Joe Biden’s win. Trump won just under 52% of the Ohio vote in 2016 and, unofficially, won just over 53% in 2020. While he gained approximately 5,500 votes in Clermont County, we did cut his percentage in the County by about three-tenths of one percent. Brad Wenstrup received just under 73% of Clermont County’s votes in 2020 compared to just under 71% in 2018 for Congress. Democrats lost seats in the Ohio House and Republicans still hold a super majority. Our candidate in House District 65 improved by four-tenths of one percent in 2020 compared to 2018. Republicans still hold a majority on the Ohio Supreme Court. In 2018, Justice Michael Donnelly won Clermont County with 51% of the vote and Justice Melody Stewart received 42% of the County’s votes. In 2020, the best we did in Supreme Court races was just over 43% for Judge Brunner. Judge O’Donnell got only 36%. In the contested race for County Commissioner, the Republican won 71% in 2020 compared to 68.5% in 2018.
No one factor explains all the results. The biggest problem, I think, is exemplified in a conversation I had after the election with Ryan Ottney, our candidate for State Senate. Ryan told me that many people he spoke to during his campaign said they liked him and thought he was the better candidate. However, according to Ryan, these same people apologetically said that they could not vote for him because he is a Democrat. We must recognize that we lack credibility, or worse, with most of the electorate we are trying to reach.
To an extent, the problem is not of our making. Perceptions of the major parties are formed by what people see, hear, and read in the national media. Nationally, the Democratic Party’s constituency is primarily urban, a fact amply illustrated by the 2020 presidential vote in many states. Many issues that are critical in New York, Detroit, Chicago, Denver, Portland, and San Francisco generate little or no interest among most voters in Milford, Batavia, Williamsburg, and Bethel. This does not, in my view, mean that we give up and accept the role of permanent minority party.
I do not believe that our strategy can be to just hold on until the demographics of our county and our state change. No one knows whether that will happen in our lifetimes and there is social science research indicating that many people who move into a new community do not retain the political views they held in their prior community but, instead, conform to the majoritarian views of their new community either to gain acceptance or influence. The good news in this is that people’s politics are not immutable.
We all need to think seriously about and discuss how we can improve Democratic credibility and change the perception of our “brand” in Clermont County and in Ohio. I do not think we do that by abandoning the principles which drew us to the Democratic Party. Whether or not most Clermont Countians agree or care, systemic racism exists, income inequality is growing, many people cannot afford adequate health care, and climate change is real and affects us. We cannot abandon our commitment to addressing those and other issues. However, before we can make any progress on those issues, we must persuade people to listen to us.
To get them to listen, I think we need to talk about what matters to the people driving along Main Street in Batavia, shopping in Amelia Kroger, and sitting at the bar in By Golly’s in Milford. That means we need to learn what matters them. I think we need to learn the language those people use when they talk about the issues which matter to them. I think we need to find issues, probably local ones, on which we can publicly take positions consistent with the views of a larger number of our neighbors and present those positions in our neighbors’ language.
I think we can also build credibility by recruiting good people to run for and win the local offices elected in non-partisan races in 2021: municipal council, township trustee, school board. Once those people are elected, we must have their backs and help them do their jobs well. We need local Democrats who are perceived as competent and credible. We need to build those perceptions before those people are perceived as Democrats.
You have much to be proud of from the 2020 election. However, in Clermont County and Ohio, the election did not change the people or ideology which hold power. Our paramount mission as a political party is electing people to office who will implement policies for the good of all. It will take time, but we must do a better job of translating your selfless efforts into achieving that mission. None of us has a monopoly on the wisdom needed to do that. I look forward to dialogue with all of you on how we do better.