Donald Trump needs Ohio to win in 2020, and he needs Cincinnati and Hamilton County in order to win in Ohio. Yes, Ohio is a red state right now. But Trump's worried enough to keep holding rallies here 15 months before Election Day.
When President Trump railed against Baltimore and other diverse American cities as dangerous and “broken” during a campaign rally here this week, supporters cheered Trump's assessment.
“Our city is very chaotic politically,” said Alex Triantafilou, the Republican Party chairman in Hamilton County. “That resonates with people. People are moving a little further out, a little further out, whenever they can.”
But Trump’s rhetoric was also welcomed by David Pepper, the Ohio Democratic Party chairman from Cincinnati, who is heartened by recent polling that shows former vice president Joe Biden currently winning the state over Trump and 2018 midterm data that showed many suburban areas swinging away from the GOP.
“The irony is he is giving his speech here, in a city that is doing well,” Pepper said of Trump. “They are already losing Hamilton County suburbs. To the extent that he brings his rantings and ravings and tweets to town, to the extent that he comes to Cincinnati and Hamilton County, it's a symbol of where he is losing ground and why. We take it as a badge of honor that he and his campaign are coming back every week. They know they’re in trouble.”
Going around and calling Cincinnati a rodent-infested crime hellhole might not help him here, who knew?
Hamilton County is distinctly not Trump country. With about 800,000 people, the county is one of four in Ohio where Trump in 2016 underperformed compared to Mitt Romney four years earlier, losing by nearly 40,000 votes to Hillary Clinton even as he sailed to an eight-point victory statewide. The county has trended toward Democrats since 2008, when it flipped for the first time since 1964 for Barack Obama. Former Ohio governor John Kasich, one of Trump’s few Republican foes, won 60 percent of the county’s vote in 2014.
Trump’s campaign team is eager to buttress his support in places like Hamilton County, particularly given a July Quinnipiac poll that showed Biden beating Trump in the state by 50 percent to 42 percent. Biden was the only Democrat who topped Trump in the state, and some Democrats here said another nominee would struggle to defeat him.
Among the president’s campaign advisers, Ohio is seen as a likely win, though not a guarantee, and they want to compete strongly in places such as the Cincinnati suburbs. His early trip to the county, advisers said, showed how seriously they take the area.
Mike Dawson, the creator of an election statistics website who conducted an analysis of 2016 Ohio voting patterns for The Washington Post, said “the statistics would seem to indicate he's less popular” in the state but that his “significant win” in 2016 will be difficult for Democrats to overcome.
“Hamilton is probably never going to vote Republican again,” Dawson said. “In nonpresidential years, Ohio is clearly a red state. In presidential years, it's not quite so clear.”
Ohio is red for now, but how red remains to be seen.