Trump campaign is surprisingly disengaged in Mahoning Valley; no recent visit by the candidate

On the side

When U.S. Sen. Al Franken was a writer and performer on “Saturday Night Live,” his best-known character Stuart Smalley’s catchphrase was: “I’m good enough, I’m smart enough, and doggone it, people like me.”

While the Democrat from Minnesota recently told me he often is asked to say it, he doesn’t. “I want to kind of talk about my job now,” Franken said.

Franken was in Mahoning County on Wednesday to raise money for Democrat Ted Strickland’s U.S. Senate bid. Strickland wasn’t in attendance – instead at an event in Columbus with U.S. Sen. Cory Booker of New Jersey.

I called Strickland’s campaign office a day earlier to get information on the fundraiser. A Strickland staffer was reciting Smalley’s mantra to me over the phone. The former governor happened to be walking by at the time and finished it: “And doggone it, people like me.”

With Donald Trump’s success in the Mahoning Valley during the March Republican primary, several people said that the area was “Ground Zero” for the presidential race between the GOP nominee and Democrat Hillary Clinton.

If Trump is going to do well here – and I expect him to be the strongest Republican presidential candidate in terms of performance in the Valley since Ronald Reagan’s 1984 re-election bid – it will happen in spite of the nominee and his odd campaign strategy.

In terms of population, Mahoning and Trumbull counties were the two largest in Ohio to back Trump during the primary with a large number of crossover votes from Democrats and independents.

The Trump campaign should be doing everything it can to pump up its base in Mahoning and Trumbull. Instead, it’s barely running commercials on TV and radio here, hasn’t sent a single surrogate to the area since early September, and neither Trump nor Mike Pence, the Republican vice-presidential nominee, has had any post-primary events in Trumbull County.

As for Mahoning County, Trump – with Pence basically a spectator – had an invitation-only event Aug. 15 at Youngstown State University and a quick Sept. 5 visit to the Canfield Fair.

Pence campaigned on his own on Sept. 28 in Leetonia in Columbiana County, which should deliver at least 70 percent of the vote for the Republican ticket.

Trump’s top surrogates, including his children, are nowhere to be found in this area. The Trump kids haven’t stepped foot in the Valley and other well-known backers of the Republican nominee have stayed away for nearly two months.

On the Democratic side, it hasn’t been any better in terms of the candidates.

Actually, Clinton and Tim Kaine, the Democratic vice-presidential nominee, have been here even less. Since the primary, the two have only attended a July 30 rally at East High School in Youngstown.

However, the campaign has sent a number of surrogates to campaign for her including Vice President Joe Biden on Sept. 1 and her husband, former President Bill Clinton, on Oct. 5. There have also been lesser surrogates – including senators, former government officials and actors – campaigning in the Valley for Clinton.

Clinton and Trump each campaigned here on the Saturday and Monday, respectively, before the March primary.

Overall, Trump and Pence have campaigned 45 times in Ohio while it’s been 25 times for Clinton and Kaine, according to The Columbus Dispatch.

In comparison, during the 2012 campaign, President Barack Obama campaigned in the Valley one time and was supposed to be here eight days before the general election, but canceled and sent Biden because of superstorm Sandy. With that final visit, Biden campaigned three times in the area.

Mitt Romney, then the Republican presidential nominee, never campaigned here after the March primary while Paul Ryan, his VP running mate, came to the Valley three times.

However, that race wasn’t considered competitive in this area, unlike this year’s presidential campaign.

Now, it certainly wouldn’t be a surprise to see Clinton, Kaine, Trump and/or Pence in the Valley in the last week of the campaign.

After all, in the three days before the March primary, Clinton and Trump as well as Bernie Sanders, who was running in the Democratic primary, and Ohio Gov. John Kasich, who won the state’s Republican primary, all campaigned here.

Also, in 2012, Ryan had a rally the night before the election in Vienna.

But the candidates and some of their top surrogates have spent the past week in Ohio without a single visit to the Valley.

What’s interesting is that the national media – including CNN, CBS News, Yahoo News and The New York Times – as well as numerous foreign media – including The Guardian and BBC News – have made visits to Mahoning and Trumbull to discuss the possibility of these traditionally blue counties possibly backing Trump in this election.

Unless you had an invitation to his YSU event or stood among thousands of people to catch a quick glimpse of him at the Canfield Fair, the out-of-town media has spent more time in the Valley than Trump – or Clinton for that matter who was here for a late Saturday night campaign stop in Youngstown.

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