Ohio political storylines to watch in 2020

By: - January 3, 2020 1:00 am
A voting location

File photo of a voting location from Wikimedia Commons by Tom Arthur.

Earlier this week, the Ohio Capital Journal outlined a number of policy areas to watch in 2020.

This is also shaping up to be an important election year. Today we look at some of the key political storylines to keep an eye on in 2020:

Ohio Supreme Court: GOP majority, or Dem sweep?

Two judicial showdowns make up the only statewide elections on the 2020 General Election ballot. 

With no primary challenges, all eyes on these two Ohio Supreme Court races are looking ahead toward November. 

A pair of Republican incumbent justices are running for reelection Sharon Kennedy will face Democrat John O’Donnell, while Judith French is up against Democrat Jennifer Brunner. 

O’Donnell is a Cuyahoga County Common Pleas Court judge who twice before campaigned unsuccessfully for the Supreme Court. Brunner is a former Ohio Secretary of State and Franklin County Common Pleas Court judge. 

Republicans hold a 5-2 majority on the Ohio Supreme Court. If O’Donnell and Brunner sweep the two races, Democrats would hold a narrow 4-3 majority. 

Both political parties have reason to maintain or gain control of the court, particularly with redistricting efforts taking place next year. The court, while not directly involved in drawing the new district lines, would hear a legal challenge to the results should one arise. 

Presidential primary: Which Dem will come out on top?

Believe it or not, President Donald Trump will have a primary contender on the Republican ballot in Ohio. 

That would be William Weld, the former Massachusetts governor who served as Libertarian presidential candidate Gary Johnson’s running mate in 2016. Weld has as much chance this March of defeating Trump in Ohio as Wright State does in winning the March Madness tournament, so we turn our attention instead to the Democratic presidential primary. 

President Donald J. Trump is seen giving remarks Sept. 22, 2019, at the Pratt Industries plant opening in Wapakoneta, Ohio. (Official White House Photo by Shealah Craighead)

A total of 14 Democrats filed for the Ohio primary ballot. The number of candidates dropped to 13 on Thursday with Julian Castro suspending his campaign.

With two-dozen states hosting caucuses/primaries before Ohio does, it is likely the number of active candidates will drop some more prior to Buckeye State residents taking to the polls on March 17.

As of this writing, those set to compete in Ohio are: Joe Biden, Bernie Sanders, Elizabeth Warren, Pete Buttigieg, Michael Bloomberg, Andrew Yang, Amy Klobuchar, Cory Booker, Tulsi Gabbard, Tom Steyer, Michael Bennet and Deval Patrick.

The primary here comes two weeks after the high-profile Super Tuesday races, which will dole out a hefty number of delegates in California, Colorado, Massachusetts, Texas, Virginia and elsewhere. March 17 will remain a crucial date in the primary season, though, with voters in Arizona, Florida and Illinois joining Ohio in hosting elections that day. 

The latest poll of Ohio voters was released in early October, with Biden at 29 percent, Sanders at 27 and Warren at 21. (U.S. Sen. Kamala Harris of California finished fourth with 7 percent, but has since dropped out of the race.)

Hillary Clinton won Ohio in 2016 en route to the nomination, earning 56 percent of the vote to Sanders’ 43 percent. 

Candidates will turn their attention to Ohio in the coming weeks, and it will be interesting to follow which Democrats gain traction here in the lead-up to March 17.

Statehouse 2020: GOP’s supermajorities on the line

Democrats are hoping to cut into the GOP’s supermajorities in the Ohio House and Senate, but Republicans will keep the pressure on this fall. 

The Democrats’ goal in 2020 is clear: end the GOP’s supermajority in the Ohio House and at least make headway toward doing so in the Ohio Senate. 

Republicans are ceding no ground and plan to contest nearly every district across the state. 

First, the numbers: Republicans currently hold a 61-38 edge in the House and a 24-9 lead in the Senate. To have a supermajority is to control at least 60 percent of a legislative chamber. 

Ohio Senate Chambers
The Ohio Senate Chambers. File Photo

Democrats need to overturn just two districts in the House to make it a simple GOP majority. The odds are more favorable for Republicans in the Senate, in which five seats (out of 33 total) would need to flip blue to end the supermajority. As we’ve reported, Republicans are keeping up the pressure by fielding candidates in 94 of the 99 House districts. Democrats are contesting 83 of the 99 districts. 

Each party has several important primary elections to follow. You can read up on them here.

The 60 percent mark is important, particularly in the case of congressional redistricting. The Ohio legislature will draw a new map after the 2020 census is conducted. When Ohio voters approved Issue 1 in 2018, they created a process in which the map draft must be approved by 60 percent of legislators in the Ohio House and Senate, and must be approved by at least 50 percent of members from both political parties. 

Ohio: Still a swing state?

The outcome of the Supreme Court and Statehouse races may just depend on the battle for the White House. 

President Donald Trump is campaigning for reelection while the U.S. Senate prepares for an impeachment trial of the president. While Republican officials and voters have largely remained supportive of Trump through his first term, Democrats will hope to coalesce around the winner of a lengthy, crowded primary as they try to retake the presidency. 

Trump returns to Ohio on Jan. 9 for a campaign rally in Toledo. He won Ohio by a sizable margin over Hillary Clinton, 51 to 43 percent, the first Republican to carry the state since George W. Bush in 2004. It was the widest margin since George H. W. Bush defeated Democratic challenger Michael Dukakis in 1988, 55 to 44 percent. 

Ohio has long been viewed as a crucial swing state, though recent elections have put that status into doubt. Sample headlines from the last year include: “Is Ohio still a swing state?” from CNN and “Is Ohio in play? GOP tilt working against Democrats” from the Associated Press. 

Republicans hold all six statewide positions, with Mike DeWine serving as governor. The GOP also controls the Supreme Court by a 5-2 margin and, as mentioned, holds supermajorities in both legislative chambers.

Democrats have reason to think Ohio is still in play, however. The party won both Supreme Court races in 2018 and U.S. Sen. Sherrod Brown won a third term by a comfortable margin in another statewide race in 2018.

Also, while Republicans hold a 12-4 advantage in the U.S. House of Representatives’ 16 Ohio seats, the voting margin was much narrower. Results showed that 52 percent of Ohio voters went for GOP congressional candidates compared to 47 percent for Democrats. 

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Tyler Buchanan
Tyler Buchanan

Tyler Buchanan is an award-winning journalist who has covered Ohio politics and government for the past decade. A Bellevue native and graduate of Bowling Green State University, he most recently spent 6 1/2 years as a reporter and editor of The Athens Messenger and Vinton-Jackson Courier newspapers. He is a member of the BG News Alumni Society Board and was a 2019 fellow in the Kiplinger Program in Public Affairs Journalism.