Democrats look to energize as primary comes to Buckeye State

This voting sticker, designed by student Emily Legg, was chosen in May to be the new sticker in Ohio. Photo courtesy the Secretary of State's Office.

Does it feel like 2004 to you?

That year’s political landscape looked strikingly similar to the one facing Ohio primary voters next week.

A Republican governor … a Republican-controlled General Assembly … a Republican president running for re-election who had won the electoral college despite losing the popular vote … a longshot Ohio Democrat for president (Tim Ryan, meet Dennis Kucinich) … the Dixie Chicks being relevant …

But 16 years is practically a millennia when it comes to politics, and the latest coronavirus news may complicate matters as Ohioans prepare to head to the polls. 

Around 2.4 million votes were cast in Ohio during the 2004 primary election, or just under 33% of registered voters. With expanded early voting access and two Democratic presidential frontrunners drumming up attention here, turnout may end up being higher in 2020. 

Former Vice President Joe Biden and U.S. Sen. Bernie Sanders of Vermont will campaign in Ohio on Tuesday. Biden is first traveling to Columbus early in the day, then both will host competing election night rallies tonight in Cleveland. Six states vote today a week before Ohioans will on March 17.

“I’m thrilled they’re coming,” Ohio Democratic Party Chairman David Pepper said on Monday. “Both candidates view Ohio as a state they can win.”

Their planned visits will come just one day after it was announced that three residents of Cuyahoga County have tested positive for coronavirus. The Capital Journal reached out to both campaigns to hear about their travel plans in light of the Ohio coronavirus news. 

A Biden spokesperson said just prior to 4 p.m. that they had not heard of any changes to the campaign schedule.

“The Biden campaign will continue to closely follow guidance offered by federal and local public health officials on the types of events we hold and how we execute them,” the campaign said.

Pepper said his party’s goal over the past year has been to channel the attention from the presidential contest into energy in the down-ballot races. Thanks to support from Fair Fight, an organization led by Georgia politician Stacey Abrams, Pepper said the party will be hiring “election monitors” next Tuesday. He said these workers will observe the voting process as a “dry run” for the general election, making particular note of locations with lengthy voting lines. 

“It gives you a whole fresh look at what Democrats are out there voting,” Pepper said of analyzing next week’s primary election results. “(The primary) updates the data and lets you do a lot of important things going into the fall.”

In the Ohio Senate, the Democrats have three contested primary races while the Republicans feature six. 

Democrats are also seeking to flip at least two seats this fall in the 99-member Ohio House of Representatives. This would end the Republican legislative supermajority. The Democrats have 14 contested primaries, while the GOP has 17. 

The Ohio Supreme Court is a priority for both parties, though there are no contested judicial primaries next week. Two Democrats are challenging two Republican incumbent justices for a chance to swing the court into Democratic control.