2020 Election Still ‘Moving Target’ as Valley’s Political Alignment Shifts

NILES, Ohio – A political realignment of Mahoning and Trumbull counties is here, but how long it endures may depend on who the Republican Party’s next presidential candidate is, political scientist Paul Sracic said.

Sracic, a professor of political science and international relations at Youngstown State University, was the keynote speaker at the Youngstown/Warren Regional Chamber’s Economic Forecast Thursday morning.

“Welcome to the Republican Mahoning Valley,” Sracic said. That’s not a statement he could have imagined making when he arrived in the area in 1992, when the area was “totally Democratic,” he acknowledged.    

The traditionally Democratic strongholds of Mahoning and Trumbull counties had been trending more Republican over the years but Trump’s candidacy in 2016 “blew the door open on it,” he said. He was “the right candidate to move it forward,” compared with 2012 Republican nominee Mitt Romney, who was more of a traditional GOP candidate.

“Some working class voters go for that, but overall he looks too much like the guy who owns the company,” he continued. Trump’s appeal is not only his message on trade but also the way he talks and how he delivers his message.  

Trump’s win in Mahoning County wasn’t a complete shock, he said. “If you lived around here, you kind of expected what happened to happen, but the rest of the world didn’t, the rest of the country didn’t,” he said. 

Sracic got an email around 8:30 p.m. Tuesday from CNN asking him to write a piece on why President Donald Trump lost Ohio in his bid for reelection. Based on what he was seeing, he responded that Trump was going to win Ohio, which ultimately proved to be the case. 

“We knew it. We saw it. I think we were the least shocked voters in the country,” he said. 

The question for Republicans going forward is whether there is another GOP candidate who can hold the coalition together and build on it. 

“It’s not a foregone conclusion that it holds together,” he said. Though U.S. Rep. Tim Ryan’s loss of Trumbull County, his home county, could signify a wider trend, Trump was on the ballot, so that loss could have been a down-ballot effect.  

The 2020 presidential election, which was largely the topic of Sracic’s presentation, remained a “moving target,” because no winner has been declared yet. At noon Thursday, Democratic nominee Joe Biden held a 253-214 lead in the electoral college, with votes still being counted in six states. 

“The high probability is former Vice President Biden is elected president but it’s not certain yet, There’s a path for Donald Trump,” Sracic said.

In Congress, Republicans outperformed expectations. The party is likely to retain control of the Senate and gain seats in the House of Representatives, though they will still be in the minority there. Should Biden be declared the winner, if history is any guide, Republicans likely will reclaim the House majority in the 2022 election.    

“If it looks like we’re betting on something, bet on divided government,” he said. “That means gridlock.” 

Also, following Trump’s use of trade powers ceded to the presidency by Congress – including his use of Section 301 tariffs without World Trade Organization findings – there could be bipartisan agreement to reclaim those powers. 

At the state level, Republicans gained seats in the statehouse, which could be important with congressional redistricting following the 2020 Census. 

“The district we’re in right now is going to be no more in 2022,” he predicted “It’s going to be redrawn because Ohio almost definitely is going to lose seats.”   

That means mobilizing the community now, said Tom Humphries, president and CEO of the Regional Chamber.  

“You can’t wait until the 12th hour on redistricting. You need to line that stuff up now,” he said. 

Last time, the state legislators, the governor’s office and the chamber came together to make sure the community was “in the game because, to be honest with you, the last time we were on the way out,” he said. “We did not have a presence so it’s very, very, very important that we address it now and that we get some consensus around it.” 

Given the political realignment locally, drawing a new district is going to be difficult, Sracic said.  

“If you’re in Columbus and you’re trying to draw lines, what is the Valley?” he asked. “It used to be a Democratic-packed district. We don’t know what it is now so the same questions they’re going to be asking in Columbus very shortly as they try to redraw these lines.”  

Check back to BusinessJournalDaily.com for more coverage of the Youngstown/Warren Regional Chamber’s Economic Forecast Breakfast.

Pictured: YSU political science professor Paul Sracic shared insights to the 2020 elections at the Economic Forecast Breakfast Thursday morning.

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