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Is Valley a political player?

Published: Fri, August 17, 2012 @ 12:00 a.m.

By David Skolnick (Contact)

On the side

Catholics for Obama: U.S. Rep. Tim Ryan of Niles, D-17th, and former U.S. Rep. Kathy Dahlkemper of Erie, Pa., a Democrat who used to represent her state’s 3rd District, are among the 21 people selected as national co-chairs of Catholics for Obama, the president’s Catholic advisory committee. Catholics, particularly in swing states, are seen as a key voting group in the presidential election.

Aging Supremes: David Warren, Mahoning County field director for Mitt Romney’s presidential campaign, told a crowd of Republican women, waiting for Lt. Gov. Mary Taylor, that one reason to vote for the Republican is three U.S. Supreme Court justices are over the age of 75. The next president could replace all of them because, as Warren bluntly pointed out, “They’re either going to die or retire.”

Out of the office: I will be out of the office for most of next week so I won’t have a column next Friday.

It’s been said and written many times that if you are a Republican presidential candidate and you receive 40 percent of the vote in Democratic-controlled Mahoning and Trumbull counties, you’re going to win Ohio, a key battleground state.

At a Monday event with Lt. Gov. Mary Taylor, David Warren, field director for Mitt Romney’s presidential campaign in Mahoning County, said it is “vital” that the Republican candidate receive 40 percent of the vote in the two counties.

However, the 40-percent mark is largely a myth. Even needing 38 percent in the Mahoning Valley to carry the state is rare for Republicans.

An examination of voter percentages in the two counties for Republican presidential candidates during the last seven elections shows that only one — Ronald Reagan in 1984 against Democrat Walter Mondale — broke 40 percent.

Reagan barely got over the 40-percent hump in 1984 against Mondale, considered an exceptionally weak presidential candidate, in Mahoning County with 40.6 percent of the vote. Reagan got 44.2 percent of Trumbull’s vote.

Of course, Reagan easily won that election in Ohio and nationwide.

But other Republicans elected president, George H.W. Bush in 1988, and his son, George W. Bush in 2000 and 2004, won Ohio and the general election without hitting 40 percent in the Valley.

The elder Bush won the 1988 election against Democrat Michael Dukakis while receiving 36.4 percent of the vote in Mahoning County and came very close to 40 percent in Trumbull, where he received 39.5 percent of the vote.

In 2000, his son received 35.5 percent in Mahoning and 36 percent in Trumbull against Democrat Al Gore. He did slightly better in 2004 against Democrat John Kerry, who campaigned often in the Mahoning Valley, with 36.7 percent in Mahoning and 37.9 percent in Trumbull.

Interestingly, Republican John McCain did better in 2008 in the two counties, 35.6 percent in Mahoning and 37.6 percent in Trumbull, than George W. did in 2000, and lost Ohio and the election.

Those numbers are a lot better than his father’s voter percentages in 1992 and Republican Bob Dole in 1996 against Democrat Bill Clinton.

The elder Bush got only 24.8 percent of the vote in Mahoning County in 1992 and 24 percent in Trumbull. H. Ross Perot, an independent candidate, did better than Bush in Trumbull that year. In 1996, Dole received 26.6 percent of the vote in Mahoning County and 26.2 percent in Trumbull.

So what does this mean?

First, the Valley’s importance in presidential politics appears to be overstated.

In all cases since 1984, except McCain four years ago, Republicans won Ohio with as little as 35 percent of the Valley’s vote.

Second, there isn’t a connection between voting performance and campaign visits to the area by presidential and vice presidential candidates.

George W. Bush campaigned two times in the Valley and Kerry was here five times in 2004 — and three or four by his running mate John Edwards — compared to four each for McCain and Democrat Barack Obama in 2008. Bush won and McCain didn’t, and Bush’s 2004 Valley percentages were only a bit better than McCain’s 2008 numbers.

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