Jack Hartman is a journalist, professor, and activist. In a two-part presentation delivered over the past two monthly Executive Committee meetings, he offered his thoughts on the opportunities for Democratic success in Delaware County. The presentation is reproduced in his column.
In Delaware County we Democrats must break what I call The Red Ceiling.
We have not elected a Democrat to a county or state legislative office in more than 40 years. Despite a Herculean effort in 2018, we came up short. We got closer than we have gotten in a long while, but we still failed to win. We failed to break the Red Ceiling. We need a comprehensive “autopsy” to determine why we lost and create a plan for winning in the future.
Our best showing was in the August 7 Special Election for the 12th congressional district, when Danny O’Connor got 46% of the vote to his opponent’s 54% in Delaware County. In the general election, Danny got 44% to his opponent’s 55% in Delaware County, a net slippage of 3% compared to the Special Election.
Two judicial candidates did get a majority of the votes in the county. Pat Delaney got 62% for court of appeals judge and Michael Donnelly got 52% for Ohio Supreme Court. Melody Stewart got 46% of the vote for the other Ohio Supreme Court seat.
All three judicial candidates went on to win their races. Judicial candidates in Ohio do not have their party membership stated next to their names like candidates for non-judicial do. I believe the fact that only judicial candidates carried Delaware County has great significance to our future. I will get to that in a moment.
From 2008 to 2016, the Democrats running for county and legislative office in Delaware County have received an average of 33 percent of the vote. The Republicans have gotten an average of 67 percent. (The highest Democratic percentage was 39 percent).
In other words, Democrats must persuade 17 percent of the electorate to change their political behavior. This is a tall order because most voters are creatures of habit
A wave election generally nets the benefiting party 8-10 percent more of the vote than usual. That still leaves us 7-9 percent short. Individual voter contact through a strong “ground game” can be helpful, too, but generally produces a 3-5 percent gain. Adding the best case scenarios of both a wave and a ground game together adds up to 15 percent, that is still 2 percent short of victory since we must overcome a 17 percent deficit.
In other words, we could receive a very favorable “double benefit” and still end up losing … again.
We did make significant gains in 2018. Our six candidates for county and legislative office averaged 40 percent, a 7% increase over our 10-year average. I would credit some of that gain to a mini-blue wave and some of it to a solid ground game.
However, that 40 percent only increased our average vote for county and legislative offices for the past 12 years by 1 percent to 34 percent.
Yet we are far from the promised land of victory. Conditions for us Democrats were more favorable than normal in 2018 in part because two of the republican candidates — Jordan and Brenner — were discredited and unpopular in their party. One, Brenner, has a 4-year term and probably will not be on the ballot in 2020 and the other, Jordan, is engaged in a nasty divorce proceeding and is trying to knock off the incumbent Cindy Dinovo in the clerk of courts primary in May. If Jordan wins the primary, our candidate Emma merles has improved chances in the general election. If Jordan loses the primary, he probably will run for re-election to the Ohio house in 2020 and will again become the republican we most likely can defeat.
We cannot predict at this time whether or not conditions for Democrats will be favorable, unfavorable or neutral in 2020.
Nonetheless, we Democrats remain decided underdogs in Delaware county going into 2020. The same power dynamics of the past 40 years remain largely in effect. The republican winners in contested races will have higher name recognition, the more office-holding experience, the more money, more endorsements by county parties and party leaders, more media coverage, more television commercials, more social network presence, more color postcards sent through the mail, more yard signs, and more ability to portray their opponents in a negative light than we Democrats do.
In Delaware county, we must either adopt the tools of the power dynamics or see our string of losses continue. Idealism is a wonderful part of political involvement, but we are doomed if we fail to confront the objective reality of the situation in which we find ourselves.
We Democrats need comprehensive, monumental, game-changing campaigns to win in Delaware County. In order to succeed, Democrats, first, must be willing to invest in the campaign management, political polling and research in order to determine a feasible path to victory. Then we Democrats must be willing to invest in organization and campaign activities — such as expensive direct-mail advertising, social-media advertising, TV advertising and yard signs — in order to achieve success. Danny O’Connor was able to do this and ran a close race.
What we learned from the results of the three judicial races, in which two of the three Democratic candidates carried Delaware County and the third one came close, is that the biggest obstacle to our success is the word “Democrat.” Remove the party label and our people can carry the county.
What does that mean? It means that the perception of the vast majority of the voters in Delaware County is that the Democratic party does not represent their values. Conversely, it means that the vast majority of the voters in Delaware County believe that the Republican party represents their values and they vote that way. I heard a story a few years ago that a local man went into his voting precinct and said to the workers, “please tell me who the Republicans are so i can vote for them.”
It is my belief that the perception of the Democratic party by local residents is derived largely from the actions and policies of the national Democratic party and its leaders, not from the behavior of leading Democrats at the county and state level.
In other words, our brand, the Democratic party at the national level, has caused us to lose for four decades.
So for us to succeed in electing Democrats to county and legislative offices, we must develop and publicize a unique brand of the Democratic party of Delaware County. One that more closely represents the thinking of the residents of the county and one that is distinct from the national party. We must change our brand before we can start winning elections. We need to conduct a public opinion poll to determine the wants, needs and attitudes of Delaware counties and more closely align our party’s values with our constituents. We must change the way the Delaware County Democratic party is perceived by county residents before we can break the red ceiling. It is as simple as that. Let us get started.
We must be organized so that we can seize upon these and other issues in county government. We need two strong candidates to come forward to develop these and other issues and to gain name recognition.
LET US BREAK THE RED CEILING TOGETHER!