By David Skolnick
More than 6,000 Democrats in Mahoning County switched party affiliation to Republican largely to vote for Donald Trump, the GOP presidential front-runner, local political party chairmen say.
Also, 21,801 voters without party affiliation voted Republican in the March primary, Chris Rakocy, information technology manager for the county board of elections said after the primary results were finalized late last week.
Trump lost the Ohio primary by 11 percentage points to Gov. John Kasich, but won by 13 percentage points in this strong Democratic county.
Will the new registered Republicans stay?
“Probably not [all], but many will,” said Mark Munroe, county Republican Party chairman. “I did talk to some hard-core Democrats who were crossing over only to vote for Trump, and it was clear it would be a one-time thing. On the other hand, when talking to disaffected Democrats, I had the sense that we were in fact picking up new Republicans who would be with us for the long haul.”
“A lot of people switched parties to vote, in my opinion, for Donald Trump, but it’s an aberration,” said David Betras, county Democratic chairman. “These people, once they’re informed that Donald Trump said that American wages are too high [during a Nov. 10, 2015, Republican presidential debate] and other anti-American-worker comments, will come back home” to the Democratic Party.
Munroe said: “There is no question that interest in voting for Trump drove much of the crossover voting,” but there are lifelong Democrats who are “simply fed up” with the party.
There were 6,171 Democrats who cast Republican ballots in the primary compared with 154 Republicans switching affiliation to Democrats, Rakocy said.
Overall, there are now 35,867 registered Republicans in the county compared to 14,663 before the primary, he said.
Adding new GOP voters and those who already were registered Republicans would be 42,481. But 6,614 Republicans haven’t voted in a party primary since 2011, including last month’s, so they lost their party affiliation, Rakocy said.
There are 42,192 registered Democrats in the county, up a small amount from the 40,958 registered before the primary, Rakocy said.
Democrats lost about 15,000 of their registered voters in Mahoning County because those people haven’t voted in a Democratic primary since 2011.
Overall, 20,208 unaffiliated voters voted Democratic in last month’s primary, Rakocy said.
There are only 6,325 more registered Democrats than Republicans in a county that’s been dominated for decades by Democrats.
Auditor Ralph Meacham is the only registered Republican who ran with party affiliation holding a countywide office, and the first Republican to win a nonjudicial countywide race in 30 years. Republicans serve as judges in Mahoning County, but they run in general elections without party affiliation on the ballot.
“I wasn’t surprised there was a large crossover vote, and that Republican registration went up,” Munroe said. “What was a surprise, a shock really, was how large that number was. To see Republican registration more than double overnight in a presidential year was stunning.”
The Democratic crossover in Mahoning County for Trump, Betras said, is “the leftover coalition for [ex-U.S. Rep] Jim Traficant. Traficant and Trump are very much alike. We have a lot of Trump’s demographic here: white, male, blue-collar workers with not a lot of education.”
Though Betras is confident Hillary Clinton, the Democratic presidential front-runner, will win the general election, he said Trump is the Republicans’ best candidate to be competitive in Mahoning County.
Trump supporters “won’t vote for Ted Cruz or any other person Republicans will put up,” he said. “Obviously, they’re not going to vote for John Kasich. They didn’t vote for John Kasich” in the presidential primary.
Also, it doesn’t matter who is the Republican presidential nominee; Democrats in the county will win in November, Betras said.
But Munroe sees it differently.
“Because of the strong support for Trump in the Valley, a Trump candidacy may help our local slate,” he said. “We have the strongest slate of candidates that we have had in many years, and the combination of Trump support and a general aversion to Democrats driven by the ongoing corruption cases may make this a good year for Republicans.
“If Kasich is our nominee, I think the political environment will also be good, given his popularity and the chance to elect our favorite son to the White House,” Munroe added.