Editor’s Note: Scott Jennings, a CNN contributor, is a former special assistant to President George W. Bush and former campaign adviser to Sen. Mitch McConnell. He is a partner at RunSwitch Public Relations in Louisville, Kentucky. Follow him on Twitter @ScottJenningsKY. The opinions expressed in this commentary are his own. View more opinion articles on CNN.
Not so long ago, the state of Ohio could expect a quadrennial invasion: campaign staffers by the thousands, TV ads and robocalls by the millions would descend as Democrats and Republicans furiously competed for the Buckeye State’s 18 electoral votes.
But something has happened that could change that: President Donald Trump may have just taken Ohio off the table for 2020. While Democrats scramble to recover other Midwestern states (such as Wisconsin, Michigan, and Pennsylvania) they lost in 2016, it seems unlikely they will wrest Ohio from Trump’s column, given his personal engagement in saving auto industry jobs in the state. If you are one of the masochistic few who loves hearing your phone ring 48 times a day every fourth October, you are about to be sorely disappointed.
Word of Trump’s intervention in Lordstown was promising news to the Mahoning Valley, where 1,600 jobs were thought to be lost forever after General Motors closed its plant there in March. Some local and national media outlets pounced on the President back then, accusing him of breaking his promise to remember the working families of northeast Ohio. Democrats used it as a talking point to blunt the impact of the other good economic news flowing during Trump’s tenure.
But then the President’s Twitter feed electrified the state Wednesday. He announced that General Motors had agreed to invest $700 million in Ohio, creating 450 new jobs around the state, and that GM was selling its shuttered Lordstown plant to a manufacturer of electric trucks (a deal for the potential sale has not yet been struck, but GM has confirmed it is in discussions). Given that 700 of the displaced Lordstown workers have already found jobs at other GM facilities, there’s now at least a chance that some of the rest of them could land back at their old plant under a new shingle.
“I have been working nicely with GM to get this done,” the President tweeted. “Thank you to Mary B (Barra, GM’s CEO), your GREAT Governor (Mike DeWine), and Senator Rob Portman. With all the car companies coming back, and much more, THE USA IS BOOMING!”
While deals like this sometimes fall apart, Trump has already proven his personal interest in what happens to Ohio’s working families.
Interestingly, the only naysayers were the bosses at the United Autoworkers union, who groused about the deal in a statement and clung to the outdated position that GM should “assign a product to the Lordstown facility and continue operating it.” I wonder what the rank-and-file auto workers in Lordstown think of their union bosses throwing cold water on a deal that could put them back to work?
Republicans have come a long way since 2012, when I ran Mitt Romney’s campaign in Ohio. President Barack Obama took an op-ed Romney had written with the headline “Let Detroit Go Bankrupt” four years earlier and used it to slam the GOP. Romney never had an answer to Obama’s attack depicting Romney as a heartless corporate raider who cared more about profits than people.
“When some wanted to let Detroit go bankrupt, we made a bet on American workers, on the ingenuity of American companies,” Obama said in a Columbus speech in May of 2012. He was still at it in October: “[We] refused to throw in the towel and do nothing. We refused to let Detroit go bankrupt. We bet on American workers and American ingenuity, and three years later, that bet is paying off in a big way.” I had nightmares about that “bankrupt” headline; I couldn’t turn on a TV or pick up a newspaper without seeing Obama’s team relentlessly hammering that nail.
The gambit worked perfectly: Obama bested Romney by three points in Ohio, en route to winning a second term.
But four years later, Ohioans, like many other Midwestern voters, had soured on Democrats, with Trump owning Hillary Clinton by eight points. In fact, Trump’s margin of victory in Ohio was bigger than Georgia (5) and Arizona (3.5), states that pundits routinely think of as being redder than Ohio. And Trump’s work in the state will make it more likely than not that Trump will outperform any earlier poll that predicts a Democratic edge.
Ohio should fall off Democrats’ target map completely as the two parties fight over other battleground states.
If I were setting up an electoral vote strategy for a Democratic nominee in 2020, I wouldn’t waste my resources on Ohio. Trump’s going to win it again using the same arguments Obama did in 2012. Even as Trump makes his macro argument about a strong national economy, it is sometimes the micro arguments in a given state – like refusing to throw in the towel on the auto industry – that make all the difference.