Let’s just say it one last time: 2014 was a rough year for Democrats. We had our asses handed to us, and with the exception of a few Democrats winning big races, it’s abundantly clear that somewhere along the way we lost our voice. We forgot to tell people why we are Democrats. It’s time for us to do a little soul-searching. So as we figure out what happened and get past this moment, as Democrats and Progressives struggle to find our own True North, let’s get back to some strategy basics. There is a lot we can do better, which I have been writing about in recent blog posts, but one fairly simple thing we could do might not seem that important, yet it is: We can hold the DNC convention in Ohio in 2016.
I don’t normally concern myself with where the party holds its nominating convention. Normally it doesn’t matter much at all. I think this year might be a little different. I think it actually does matter for 2016.
In the interest of full disclosure, I’ve only been to Columbus a few times in my life (although I have done my share of politics related to the state). Nice city. Nice people.
Here’s the thing, though: As long as I have been doing presidential politics (30 years now), Ohio has been the number one target state in the country. While you can theoretically win the presidency without winning Ohio, damn few presidents ever have. Obama, both Bushes, Clinton, Reagan, Carter, Nixon — they all won Ohio in the races they won presidential elections. Kerry and Gore would have won their elections if Ohio had gone their way. It is the ultimate swing state, and it’s in the ultimate swing region. Fellow Midwestern states Michigan, Wisconsin, Minnesota, and Iowa are all important swing states, as is next-door neighbor to the east, Pennsylvania.
The Republicans know this math well. The Republican convention will be in Cleveland in 2016. And John Kasich, Ohio’s top Republican, conservative, union-busting governor, has his eye on the White House. Whether Kasich is at the top of the ticket or not, he’ll be a formidable campaigner for his party, and he would be at the top of the short list for the VP pick. Meanwhile, the Ohio Legislature and Senate have significant Republican majorities and are currently pushing far-reaching anti-choice legislation that includes a “Heartbeat” bill that if passed, would be one of the strictest assaults on women’s reproductive freedom in the nation. Additionally, Ohio is one of the few remaining states that still have a constitutional amendment banning same-sex marriage. You really don’t get much more conservative than that — unless you saw Mississippi in the sixties. So we have some serious work to do — just because Obama won twice doesn’t mean we will easily win this time.
Although the state’s current political landscape is exceedingly conservative Columbus is the big blue middle, and it’s a game changer. A convention in Columbus will matter on so many levels — it will offer a direct and swift rebuttal to the RNC in Cleveland, fire up the grassroots, and lend extra volume to the collective progressive voice. Columbus is Ohio’s largest city, and the 15th largest in the nation, by the way, and it’s just the mute button we need to the Republican noise machine that will be grinding away only 120 miles to the north in the summer of 2016.
At a time when we’re fighting to revive the very soul of our party, it seems some Midwestern values are just what we need — less Wall Street, less big money, fewer cozy corporate deals. Let’s go to a state with a big and important rural vote. Let’s do a convention in a city that is more affordable for working people who are delegates, and where the city really wants us. Let’s go to a medium-sized, blue-collar town that has a big African-American presence and a popular African-American mayor, and strong and politically plugged-in LGBT and progressive communities. Let’s go where there’s an opportunity to harness an otherwise untapped progressive grassroots movement that’s been demoralized by recent statewide losses. Let’s go to Columbus. After all, we already know we’ll win New York (and if we don’t, our problems are far greater than we thought!). Pennsylvania will have a Democratic governor, and has been historically easier to win than the Buckeye state. But the battle for the White House will be fought and likely won or lost in Ohio.
It always is.