For many years being the Mahoning County Republican County chairman was a thankless job.
The county has been a Democratic stronghold for about 80 years and during the past three decades Republicans largely looked at small things as victories.
If a Republican received 40 percent of the vote it was considered a good thing.
If a Republican happened to win a judicial seat – those races are run without party affiliation in the general election – it was hailed as a great success. As good was when Democratic judges left the bench – sometimes for retirements and sometimes because they had to resign in scandal – and the county party was able to recommend replacements to the Republican governor.
But those were the high points during the past 30 years except for the times when the Democratic Party ran a terrible statewide ticket and Republicans won those seats in Mahoning County.
For years, Mark Munroe was the de facto chairman of the county GOP.
As its first vice chairman, Munroe made a lot of decisions and did the work of recruiting candidates who didn’t stand a chance of winning county executive branch offices. In some races, the party couldn’t even find candidates to run, but it didn’t stop Munroe from trying.
Then Munroe became chairman in 2010, an excellent year for Republicans in Ohio and nationally.
But in Munroe’s first election as chairman, Republicans again swept statewide offices, but fared poorly in Mahoning County.
For example, Rob Portman won the open U.S. Senate race statewide with 57 percent of the vote. He failed to hit 40 percent in Mahoning County.
Another example: Republican John Kasich won a close race beating incumbent Democratic Gov. Ted Strickland 49 percent to 47 percent statewide.
In Mahoning County, Kasich received only 31 percent of the vote to 66 percent for Strickland.
Don Manning, the Republican candidate for county commissioner, got 35 percent of the vote, losing an open seat to Democrat Carol Rimedio-Righetti, who received 65 percent of the vote.
It wasn’t a great start for Munroe, but not entirely unexpected in a county that has traditionally turned out the vote for Democrats.
Despite the setbacks, Munroe didn’t give up.
After being re-elected chairman in 2014, Munroe focused on taking out county Auditor Michael Sciortino, a Democrat.
It was an interesting dynamic as Munroe is a longtime board of elections member and before he became auditor, Sciortino was the board’s director.
Sciortino was vulnerable.
He was under indictment – later found guilty of two felonies and three misdemeanors – and enough people were tired of local Democratic political corruption that there was an opening.
Former Canfield Township Trustee Bill Reese was the Republican nominee for the seat, but had to withdraw because of health issues.
The party was able to find a replacement on the last day possible in Ralph T. Meacham, a first-time political candidate.
“The effort I put in to finding a last-minute replacement and how that worked out was a high point of my time as chairman,” Munroe said.
Meacham won by about 4 percent and Mahoning Republicans had their first county executive office victory in about 30 years.
Also, statewide Republicans did very well in Mahoning County in 2014 with two of them winning – Kasich for governor and Jon Husted for secretary of state – and the three Democratic winners each receiving less than 54 percent of the vote.
On paper, the 2016 election results look like another bad year for Mahoning Republicans. None of their countywide candidates were competitive against Democratic incumbents.
But Republican Donald Trump lost the presidency in the county by only 3 percent, and thousands of people switched their party affiliation to the GOP.
It brought confidence to local Republicans and continued in the 2018 election with Manning winning the 59th Ohio House District race and Michael Rulli beating Democrat John Boccieri in the 33rd Ohio Senate District race, though Rulli lost by 7,000 votes in Mahoning and won by about 13,000 in Columbiana County.
Also, while no statewide Republicans won in Mahoning County, their margins of defeat were considerably smaller than most years.
Munroe, who was re-elected in June 2018, decided it was time to leave. Even after he was selected to his third term, he made no secret that he planed to “step down before my term is over.”
The party has a long way to go to make Mahoning a purple county, but Munroe has certainly made it less blue.
Munroe’s retirement is effective Feb. 21. The party’s central committee will meet at 7 p.m. that day to select a new chairman with Thomas McCabe, the first vice chairman and the county elections board deputy director, expected to be tapped to succeed Munroe.