The 2010 Republican wave crashed hardest in the rustbelt, and Ohio was among the states where the political environment was at its worst for down-ballot Democrats. Ohio Democrats went into the election with a seven-seat edge in the state House and came out with a nineteen-seat deficit.
State Rep. Jay Goyal, Ohio’s 2010 House Democratic Caucus campaign committee chairman, doubts there was anything his committee could have done to improve the outcome. He points out that the Democratic Party had made significant gains in 2006 and 2008, despite running in districts that he argues were designed to their disadvantage. “That we won the majority [in 2008] on a map that the Republican Party had redrawn was quite historic,” says Goyal.
Not unlike Democrats in the U.S. House, who had also excelled in 2006 and 2008, a number of Ohio House Democrats had to defend themselves in moderate to Republican-leaning districts. Recognizing that the political winds were blowing against it, Goyal’s committee ramped up its fund-raising to mount a spirited challenge. “We raised close to $12 million, which is more than any [re-election committee] in the history of the state of Ohio,” says Goyal, adding that he spent liberally in an effort to shore up vulnerable candidates. In the end, though, Democrats lost nearly every competitive race—along with a few they had taken for granted.
Even though Ohio Democrats had a demonstrably frugal record, Goyal was frustrated by Republicans’ success at linking them to national Democrats. “We have two active Tea Parties in my district, I spoke to them a couple of times about what we did at the state level,” says Goyal. “We cut government, we cut taxes, and we cut spending. The feedback I got from them was, ‘You’re doing a good job at the state level, but those gosh-darn folks in Washington are messing things up.’”
Early on, Goyal’s hopes were buoyed by polling that showed individual Democratic candidates outperforming the generic Democratic brand. “If the generic [Democratic] candidate was down five-points, our candidate was up by one or two-points,” says Goyal. “That gave us confidence that we could localize the races.” As Election Day neared, however, independent and undecided voters flocked to the Republicans.
“Many of the key races we were in the lead in by five to ten-points in 2008, we were losing by the same margin in 2010,” says Goyal, noting that independents swung wildly from Democrats to Republicans, up to 40 points in some cases. In his own district, which includes the city of Mansfield in Richland County, Goyal suffered a 10-point drop, winning with 54 percent of the vote in 2010 compared with 64 percent in 2008 against the same candidate. This is a significant drop for a district that has never elected a Republican since it was created in the 1990s, where now-Sen. Sherrod Brown began his ascent to the national political stage.
Goyal’s committee’s attempts to reverse the Republican trend ended up being fruitless. “It was very difficult to move the numbers,” says Goyal. “There were races where we outspent our opponent by hundreds of thousands of dollars, and we didn’t move the needle at all. We were down by one point in one poll and spent $400,000 in TV advertisements in that district, and the poll that came back after that campaign was exactly the same.”
“Had we either had better turnout among the Democratic base or held independent voters, we could have done better and possibly held the majority” says Goyal. He concedes, however, that even if Democratic turnout had equaled that of 2008, Democrats would have struggled to hold their House majority without the support of independents.
Noah Rothman is the online editor at C&E. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org