GOP increasingly anxious about local Dem victories as midterms near
By Katie Glueck
March 12, 2018 05:00 AM
In 2004, George W. Bush showed up to campaign at the Golden Lamb Inn in Warren County, Ohio, and left with a hotel room named after him. In 2008, John McCain and Sarah Palin appeared at the same venue in suburban Cincinnati, cheered on by thousands. And in 2012, Mitt Romney made a similar late-fall push to energize his base in a county renowned for its staunch Republican bent.
But in 2017, in that same county, Democrats won more than a dozen local contests. And now, as the midterm election cycle heats up, Democrats there say the enthusiasm is only intensifying. It’s a reflection of the broader Democratic energy that is unfolding at every level of government in the Trump era, in some of the most traditionally Republican counties in the country—yet another worrisome sign for Republicans bracing for a difficult midterm year.
"It's a tough political environment,” said Nick Everhart, an Ohio-based GOP operative. “All of these state legislative special and off-year 2017 races across the country have been canaries in the coal mine. When there's a tough political environment, Ohio isn't the exception to the rule, it's the tip of the spear."
The extent to which local Democratic motivation can translate into votes in marquee races—as it did in the Virginia governor’s race and Alabama special Senate race late last year—will again be put to the test Tuesday, this time in Pennsylvania. President Donald Trump won the state’s 18th district by a large margin, but Republicans are now worried about the special election there, pouring in millions of dollars to avoid defeat in a deeply conservative area.
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But well ahead of Tuesday’s special election, Republicans were already seeing fresh warning signs at the hyper-local level elsewhere in the country, especially in suburban areas that have long formed the backbone of the GOP but that are now drifting from the Trump brand at the local and state legislative level—from Warren County to the suburbs of Philadelphia, St. Louis and Sarasota, Fla.
“There are local cases you could write off to weird circumstances, but it would be a mistake for Republicans to write off, ignore, the movement going on in the suburbs,” said Scott Jennings, a veteran GOP strategist.
Previously sleepy Democratic parties are revving up, with each small local victory stoking enthusiasm for the next bigger contest.
Certainly, few people expect Warren County, which backed Trump with 66.5 percent of the vote in 2016, to turn blue in the 2018 elections. Democrats have historically been so beleaguered there that in both 2012 and 2016, they confronted piles of manure dumped in front of their headquarters.
But the startling results from last fall have remained top of mind for some operatives in the area who took the outcome as evidence of space for more Democratic pick-up opportunities in the midterms, especially in the suburbs. And for some Republicans, it’s served as an urgent alarm bell.
“If Republicans don’t look at this and take it as a warning sign, they’re burying their heads in the sand,” said one Ohio Republican operative familiar with the county, granted anonymity to candidly assess the GOP’s landscape. "You cannot look at that many Democratic victories in that much of a reliably Republican area and conclude anything other than, there’s an overall problem for Republicans.”
The excitement generated by those unexpected victories has sparked more interest in future races. According to the Ohio Democratic Party, an unusually high number of Democrats are now planning runs for precinct executive positions in Warren County – low-profile roles, but a sign of grassroots enthusiasm—and the GOP-held First District of Ohio, which includes Warren County and other corners of moderate suburban Cincinnati, is also increasingly considered competitive.
“It shows, at every level, from statehouse to Congress and now the precinct level, Democrats are raising their hands and saying, ‘I’m ready to go,’” said Ohio Democratic Party Chairman David Pepper.
Bethe Goldenfield, the chair of the Warren County Democratic Party, said that at least a few disillusioned Republicans have reached out to her, expressing alarm over the polarizing direction of their party under Trump, whose hardline, controversial style has alienated some moderates.
“I just got off the phone with a woman an hour ago who wants to become involved in the party,” she said in a recent interview. “It’s about Donald Trump. She’s never voted Democratic in her life.”Read More...