Journal Opinion: How Red Is Our Valley

YOUNGSTOWN, Ohio – The political shift in the Mahoning Valley from a Democratic Party stronghold to the Republican Party appears all but complete.

No better evidence of that can be seen than in the outcome of the U.S. Senate race. J.D. Vance, the Republican, beat Democrat Tim Ryan in both Mahoning and Trumbull counties, which Ryan had represented in Congress for two decades.

But that is far from the only sign that a political realignment has taken hold here.

With redistricting that severed the Valley electorate, Trumbull and Mahoning counties will be represented in Congress by two Republicans. A state legislative delegation that four years ago was dominated by Democrats will send a sole Democrat to Columbus in January. Youngstown Councilwoman Lauren McNally won election to the Youngstown-centric seat held by state Rep. Michele Lepore-Hagan, whose husband, Democratic political veteran Bob Hagan, lost his bid to unseat state Sen. Mike Rulli. 

At the county level, the once-dominant Democratic Party fared no better Nov. 8.

Michael O’Brien, a Democrat who won elections in Trumbull County and the city of Warren for two generations, was defeated in his bid to return to county government by Republican Denny Malloy, giving the GOP majority representation on the board of commissioners.

In Mahoning County, Democratic Commissioner Carol Rimedio-Righetti narrowly won reelection, turning back a strong challenge by political newcomer and Trump acolyte Geno DiFabio.

In 1978, when the steel shutdowns began and grievance politics found an opening, Republican Lyle Williams pulled off an upset, winning enough votes in steel towns such as Struthers to defeat U.S. Rep. Charles Carney. Williams, always an outlier, was ousted in 1984 by Jim Traficant, whose angry, bombastic populism later was echoed and amplified nationwide by Republican Donald Trump.

As entrenched as Democrats were in the Valley for decades, it wasn’t always the case. A similar political realignment fueled by President Franklin D. Roosevelt and the New Deal led to Democrat Michael Kirwan’s 1936 defeat of U.S. Rep. John G. Cooper, a Youngstown Republican elected in 1914. Kirwan represented the district from 1937 until his death in 1970, and was succeeded by Carney, who held the seat until Black Monday changed everything.

Future elections will determine the durability of the local shift to the Republican Party. Clearly, Ohio is no longer a swing state. The ability of any Democrat to win the most votes statewide will be put to the test by U.S. Sen. Sherrod Brown’s expected (at least now) bid for a fourth term in 2024.  

As for the Republicans who will be representing and leading the Mahoning Valley, hopefully the message they heard from voters nationwide is that people want solutions to the problems they face – economic and otherwise. They do not want angry confrontations and divisive culture wars.