Politics

DNC Passes on Youngstown, Picks Westerville for Debate

YOUNGSTOWN, Ohio — Candidates seeking the Democratic Party’s nomination for president will hold their next debate in Westerville, bypassing Youngstown, which reportedly had been under consideration.

The Democratic National Committee this afternoon announced that the fourth debate would be held Oct. 15 at Otterbein University, with a potential second night Oct. 16 should enough candidates qualify. CNN and the New York Times will co-host the debate, with CNN’s Anderson Cooper and Erin Burnett, and Marc Lacey of the New York Times moderating.

A week ago, David Betras, former chairman of the Mahoning County Democratic Party, confirmed that Youngstown was among the sites in contention for the debate. He said Youngstown would be a good location for the debate because Mahoning County had the highest number per capita of crossover voters in 2016.

Dayton was also reportedly being considered. The city was put in the national spotlight last month following a mass shooting that left 10 dead and 27 injured.

The chosen setting highlights how suburban voters will play a major role in the 2020 election, both in Ohio and nationwide, the Ohio Democratic Party said in a separate news release.

“What we’ve seen in the suburbs of Columbus, Cincinnati, Cleveland and other cities mirrors what has happened in places like Harris County, Texas, and Orange County, California – suburban voters, particularly women, are backing Democratic candidates in response to the broken promises and toxic agenda of Donald Trump,” said Ohio Democratic Party Chairman David Pepper.

“In 2018, Ohio House Democrats flipped six seats from red to blue, and those pickups came in suburban communities like Westerville,” he continued. U.S. Sen. Sherrod Brown’s seven-point victory was powered not just by traditional Democratic voters, but by historic gains in Ohio suburbs, he said.

A lot of places in Ohio would have made sense for the debate, Pepper acknowledged in a phone interview.

“What’s happening in Youngstown and Lordstown and the Mahoning Valley I’m sure will be talked about at the debate at length, just like what happened in Dayton is an important story,” Pepper said.

At the same time, many traditionally Republican suburban areas are shifting to the Democrats, and Westerville is “ground zero” for that phenomenon, according to Pepper. The area had three different districts, gerrymandered by Republicans to be safe seats, that Democrats won by double digits.

“If the place where [former governor and congressman] John Kasich used to win easily is becoming a Democratic part of the state, it becomes much harder for Republicans to win the state,” he said.

“In the last election, all of the statewide candidates were talking about the potential ‘blue wave’ coming in Ohio that was going to benefit the statewide candidates,” said Joe Schiavoni, spokesman for the Mahoning County Democratic Party. “The only place the blue wave really came was to the Columbus area. Democrats crushed it.”

The former state legislator also expressed his disappointment in the decision and said the party missed an opportunity but said he understood the decision.

“It’s always great to highlight the good things we have here in the Mahoning Valley but also show people the struggles as well,” he remarked.

Responding to the announcement of the debate location, Republican National Committee spokeswoman Mandi Merritt said the GOP welcomed the Democrats’ “socialist policies” taking center stage in the state so voters can see how “radical” they have become.

“The socialist agenda of the 2020 Democrats that wants to ban everything, from abolishing private healthcare for over 6.5 million Ohioans to eliminating the fossil fuels that Ohioans rely on for energy and jobs, to even ridding the world of plastic straws is what will turn away votes in 2020,” she said.

Following the Democrats’ announcement, Elizabeth Giannone, press secretary for the Ohio Republican Party, issued a statement.

“The 2020 Democratic candidates can debate in Ohio all they want, but Ohioans have made it clear that their radical ideas are not welcome here,” she said. “President Trump’s pro-growth policies have created a booming economy, and in 2016 we flipped traditionally blue counties red.”

Among the traditionally Democratic counties that Trump won in 2016 was Trumbull County, and he came close to winning Mahoning County as well. In addition, in last year’s midterm election, Republicans took a state senate seat and a state representative seat in Mahoning County that traditionally have been held by Democrats.

To qualify to participate in the October debate, candidates must receive 2% or more support in at least four qualifying polls and donations from a minimum of 130,000 unique donors and 400 unique donors per state in at least 20 U.S. states by 11:59 p.m. Oct. 1.

The same criteria was in place for the Democrats’ Thursday night debate in Houston.

U.S. Rep. Tim Ryan, D-13 Ohio, who announced his candidacy in April, did not qualify for last night’s debate. His campaign did not respond to an emailed request for comment Friday afternoon.

Image: From left, Democratic presidential candidates Sen. Amy Klobuchar, D-Minn., Sen. Cory Booker, D-N.J., South Bend Mayor Pete Buttigieg, Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., former Vice President Joe Biden, Sen. Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass., Sen. Kamala Harris, D-Calif., entrepreneur Andrew Yang, former Texas Rep. Beto O’Rourke and former Housing Secretary Julian Castro are introduced for the Democratic presidential primary debate hosted by ABC on the campus of Texas Southern University Thursday, Sept. 12, 2019, in Houston. (AP Photo/Eric Gay)

Copyright 2019 The Business Journal, Youngstown, Ohio.