Two weeks before the election, on the same day Donald Trump’s campaign announced he would hold a big rally at the Clark County Fairgrounds in Springfield, Ohio, the dreary storefront office of Hillary for President, supposedly open from 10 a.m. to 9 p.m. daily, was still closed at 3:45 p.m.
Oh, the times, they are a changing.
Ohio used to be the bellwether — whither Ohio, at least in election politics, so went the nation. In 2004, President George W. Bush pinned his hopes for re-election on Clark County and won. In 2008, the state went to Barack Obama.
Throughout U.S. history, no Republican has won the White House without Ohio. The University of Virginia’s Center for Politics examined results of presidential elections dating to 1896 and determined no state had a higher percentage of picking the winner than Ohio. Ohioans picked the winner in 28 out of 30 elections — 93 percent.
This election may make Ohio’s reputation as the bellwether state a shibboleth and throw its unique election-predicting power into the dustbin of history.
This November, Clark County is likely to vote for Trump, even though the money-grubbing Trump campaign is not providing enough yard signs or bumper stickers to his supporters. The calls of Republican officials around the country to Trump headquarters often go unanswered. Many supporters have to buy their own Trump signs online.
As for Ohio, it is too close to call, although Trump is currently given a slight edge. Hillary Clinton may well win the White House, and Ohio may well vote for Trump.
What has happened?
Even though Ohio’s overall economy is recovering from the 2008 recession, the worst since the Depression, many counties here, including Clark, are struggling to revitalize. Trump’s three prongs — anti-immigration, anti-trade and anti-war — resonate with many workers paid less than they once were now that their industries have left town or closed altogether. Clark County has lost 15 percent of its manufacturing jobs in the last decade.
And patriotic Ohioans — more than 200,000 served in the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan — are tired of war. (Trump boasts of plans to blow up “those suckers” and kill their families when he talks of the Islamic State.)
In Ohio, it’s all about the disappearing middle class. It’s about parents struggling to make the rent or the mortgage payment, scratching by to feed their children, and all but giving up hope those youngsters will be able to go to college. Drugs have become a huge problem in this dwindling city of Springfield, which once epitomized America’s can-do spirit of optimism. Clark County was once the world’s largest provider of farm implements. Its International Harvester trucks were the industry standard.
In 1983, Newsweek magazine devoted its 50th anniversary issue to Springfield. Titled “The American Dream,” the issue was devoted to celebrating Springfielders, “the men and women who live the news, the unsung people who make our country.”
Despite despair here over Trump’s racism, sexism, outright bigotry, lack of discipline, and offensive, irrational braggadocio so at odds with the religious, conservative, industrious citizens of Springfield, the city and Ohio have the demographics closest to Trump’s message. Ohio has a larger percentage of white citizens without college degrees than almost any other battleground state.
The anger of far too many people without hope of attaining the future they once dreamed of is palpable in this city. So are the anger and disgust at Washington, blamed for not listening, not understanding and total inaction except to benefit the wealthy and powerful.
But, slowly, optimism is returning, with city leaders working hard to attract new service industry jobs, better parks, a rejuvenated downtown and a better life for citizens.
If Springfield goes narrowly for Trump, it won’t be because people here admire him. It will be because they need opportunities and a fair shake. They have felt ignored and they don’t like it. They are shouting to be heard and understood.
Earlier this month, Clinton sent her running mate, Tim Kaine, to Clark County to stump for her. Hopefully he returned to Clinton headquarters with a message: The good people of Ohio don’t need a handout; they need a hand up.
Ann McFeatters is an op-ed columnist for Tribune News Service. Readers may send her email at firstname.lastname@example.org.