How Are Statewide Decisions Made in Election Season?

Madeira Dem members listened in to the ODP regional presentation in February.

Southwest Ohio Family Meeting with Liz Walters, Chair of the Ohio Democratic Party (ODP)

Madeira Dems’ regular meeting was replaced by a call to attend the ODP Southwest Ohio region’s “family” meeting. This was one of five virtual events presented to these Ohio regions: Northwest, Northeast, Central, Southwest, and Southeast.

What’s a Family Meeting?

The “family” meeting was virtual and meant to indicate an intraparty presentation of state themes and trends. The context for campaign strategy was given where possible, with the note that the ODP doesn’t speak for every candidate or their campaign decisions.

Chairperson Liz Walters began by introducing key staff members and thanking participants. She acknowledged the members present from ODP’s governing body, the State Central Committee. This included Madeira’s Jim Ryan, who won his seat in the November ‘22 election. Other Madeira Dems on the call included Chelsea Alanis, Karen Petrosky, Barb Rider, Ashley Schweickart, and Kerry Speer.

ODP personnel: Liz Walters, Chairwoman; Mikayla Lee, Executive Director; Kyle Tromley, Deputy Executive; Director John Tannous, Party Affairs Director. The live call included a slide presentation by Walters, remarks from Makayla Lee and Kyle Tromley, and question-and-answer sessions moderated by John Tannous.

No recording will be shared, but grassroots groups may reach out to the ODP office to schedule a similar virtual presentation. The three-part agenda included a look back at 2022, a look forward, and a wrap-up Q and A.

  • Looking Back
    • Going into 2022, challenges and opportunities for ODP
    • Analysis of 2022 results, both statewide and Southwest-Ohio-specific
  • Looking Forward
    • What’s next statewide and in Southwest Ohio
  • Wrap-Up
    • Next steps, Q & A

Looking Back, Part 1: Heading Into 2022

Walters began her role as ODP Chairwoman in January of 2021, just before Rob Portman announced his retirement, which put his senate seat in play. An easily overlooked challenge the ODP faced coming into the 2022 election was financial. Walters helped ODP “right the ship” financially. The old headquarters on Fulton Street was sold just in time to avoid default, and the ODP moved to new headquarters, followed by an identity rebrand. Remarkably, 2022 was the first election cycle in 30 years where the ODP went into the cycle debt free.

The audience posed questions in the Zoom chat. Some questions were addressed midway through, and others in the final Q & A session of the evening. Several questions focused on the ODP’s new image, identity, and messaging. The ODP will retain its new website branding but will likely not continue with the “workers first” or “blue collar” messaging, which was developed by Tim Ryan’s campaign. 

What is “The Party?”

Walters explained that “the party” is made up of multiple organizations with strict guidelines on fundraising, reporting, and spending. National, state, and county committees make up the Democratic party, along with individual candidates and their campaigns. The distinction is important in assessing the efforts of each and its impact on elections.

Coordinated campaign

The Ohio Coordinated Campaign is the election effort that should engage all of the party entities, but each year it varies in goals and execution. The role of the state party (the ODP) was explained with a metaphor. “We are an infrastructure group,” said Walters. “We build roads for candidates to drive their cars on.”

The infrastructure consists of five areas. The first four were explained as:

  • financial coordination
  • personnel and data frameworks 
  • multi-candidate campaigns such as the Coordinated 
  • statewide communications
    • Features a full-time research director issuing fact papers and press releases to raise awareness and hold Republicans accountable.
  • The last element of the infrastructure was described as “seeking to align partners and entities where possible.”

This last element of alignment seemed aspirational and the least concrete part of infrastructure. Walters offered an interesting take on coordinated efforts in Southwest Ohio. She said the area has a robust grassroots infrastructure, and these grassroots clubs exist alongside the county parties in a way that doesn’t exist elsewhere in the state.

Looking Back, Part 2: Analysis of 2022 Results

Results Statewide: US House of Representatives

Democrats won a competitive congressional race for the first time since 2008. Walters highlighted the wins in all three congressional races (Ohio Districts 1, 9, and 13). Almost 50% of the party’s direct voter contact happened in those three districts. The First District, composed of Hamilton and Warren Counties, elected Greg Landsman to the US House of Representatives.

Walters displayed a US map that compared Ohio to other states for US House votes. She cited the swing percentage from 2020 to 2022, shown as plus one in Ohio using data from SplitTicket, an electoral analysis site.

Disappointing US Senate Results

ODP analyzed the votes in the Ryan-Vance race by comparing Biden’s 2020 vote tally to Ryan’s in 2022. In 84 of 88 counties, democratic performance improved over the 2020 results. What, then, contributed to the Ryan loss? One key factor was the turnout. A comparison of midterm data from 2018 to 2022 showed that overall voter turnout was down. This happened on the national and state level and was most pronounced in urban areas. Turnout results for registered voters in Ohio’s big six cities of Cleveland, Columbus, Cincinnati, Dayton, Akron, and Toledo were down from 6 to almost 10 percentage points.

National Interest Focused on Other States, Why Not Ohio?

Walters also pointed to the lack of national support money flowing into Ohio. A few reasons were cited. First, she described the national Democratic organizations as “incumbent machines” whose primary goal is to re-elect incumbents, not the case here.

Ohio also lacked statewide “nested” opportunities. A nested opportunity, where several winnable races are in-play statewide, is a preferred target for national committees because a statewide investment yields more efficient voter reach through media buys and door-knocking. Ohio is a vast media target, with multiple major city markets. Reaching our 8.5 million registered voters, within the total population of 12 million, is expensive.

Finally, Walters addressed “Ohio fatigue.” National Democratic committees have observed results dropping off in Ohio since 2014. Even winning a Senate seat in 2018, and getting within 1% of that governor’s race, doesn’t erase Ohio’s lackluster trend in the national memory. DeWine is now viewed as someone who can deliver the state for his party. (Statistically, Ryan still would have lost by 1% if Democrats had replicated the 2018 results in 2020.)

Coordinated Campaign and the Ryan Factor

The evening discussion turned a few times to the Ryan-Vance race for Senate. Walters shared insights, such as the amount of money Ryan spent, $61 million, vs. Vance, who spent $130 million. Vance raised about 15% of his total spending, with the rest coming from outside sources. By contrast, Ryan raised 80% of his funds.

Beyond budgets, campaigns involve messaging strategy. Walters said decisions for the 2022 Coordinated Campaign were in large part determined by the Ryan campaign since it raised the most money. In discussing the results, Walters stated that winning in Ohio requires doing three things at once:

  1. mobilize the base
  2. win in the suburbs
  3. don’t get demolished in rural Ohio

She said Ryan’s campaign performed on two and three but did poorly with number one. As for messaging content, Walters said that the ODP often sees ads as they air, not before. Response to the worker’s first and blue-collar messaging was mixed. Some thought ads fell flat, and there were unforced errors. Walters said some responses were positive, but the main point she made was that these decisions are not up to the ODP. She pointed out that Ryan’s campaign, even in their loss, contributed to updates in campaign infrastructure, which helps build for the future.

Republicans Rig the System and Outspend Dems

Walters also pointed out the unique nature of the Ohio political landscape: Democrats are not only outspent but the system is continuously rigged in favor of Republicans. Examples she noted include the newly partisan Ohio Supreme Court elections, ballot order decisions, and the control over redistricting. Republicans outspent Democrats four to one in the Supreme Court races. The ballot order was intentionally changed to list Supreme Court races directly under Governor DeWine. And of course, maps were released so late in redistricting that Ohio communities had to file before districts were known.

Looking Back at 2022: Focus on Southwest Ohio

Walters said that growth in both Central and Southwest Ohio represents the future for Democrats in Ohio, and much of that growth is occurring in the suburbs. Turnout was down in Ohio’s urban areas, but there was increased performance for Dems county by county. The explanation is the turnout in suburbs. Walters said this is the fastest-growing part of vote share in all parts of Ohio, particularly for the Southwest.

She shared an analysis comparing Democratic election shift from Biden 2020 to Ryan 2022. Clark, Greene, and Butler Counties matched 2020 results, with Hamilton and Montgomery Counties almost matching. But gains ranged from plus one to plus five for Democrats in Miami, Warren, Preble, Clinton, Clermont, and Highland Counties.

Looking Forward

The formal presentation ended with a few slides on key areas where planning is in the works:

  • Ballot initiatives: reproductive rights; a likely initiative on redistricting; and a fight against HJR1 (Republicans hope to make ballot initiatives harder overall with a 60% vote to win)
  • The 2023 election cycle will focus on municipal elections
  • 2024 will focus on re-electing Sherrod Brown statewide; and Greg Landsman in Southwest Ohio’s District 1
  • Voter registration work and fighting repressive changes to voter ID requirements
  • Improving data analysis, including voter-level analysis of 2022, plus continuing to improve data quality with more up-to-date records
  • Working with a new provider, Near Me Politics, to bring some of the success in Wisconsin and Michigan organizing to Ohio, albeit with a much smaller budget

Walters promised more information this summer on the beta testing and Near Me Politics.

Wondering What To Do Next?

Join Madeira Dems, obviously! You can also sign up for HCDP newsletters for county-wide information and talk to your Precinct Executive or State Central Committee (Rep. Jim Ryan) if you want to weigh in on any of the goals and planning for 2023 and beyond. They represent us as part of the ODP Executive Committee.

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