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Political Scientists Say Good News Lies Ahead For Ohio Democrats

Ohio Democrats haven’t had too much to cheer about this week after staggering losses at the polls Tuesday. 

The head of the Ohio Democratic Party resigned on election night after he lost his seat in the General Assembly. But some political scientists think the bad news in recent days could turn out to be good news for the party in the future. Ohio Public Radio's Jo Ingles Reports.

There is no way to sugar coat what happened to Democrats in this election.  The losses were devastating.  But John Green, a political science professor at the University of Akron says there is a silver lining here.

Green – “One advantage of losing, if one can think of it that way, is that it is an opportunity to reorganize, to develop new ideas, new candidates and new organization and to be able to come back and compete more effectively.  Sometimes it takes a loss to get those kinds of innovations in the parties.”

Only about 40% of Ohio’s registered voters actually voted in this election.  And there were no statewide issues on the ballot that drove voter interest.  But there are some issues….like same-sex marriage, legalized marijuana, voter rights, and so-called “workplace freedom” or “right to work"…that could be on the ballot in the future.  Green says the low turnout will actually make those efforts easier.

Green- “Because of the low turnout this year, which was not good for Democrats this year, they’ll need to collect many fewer signatures to get things on the ballot for 2016.”

Green says focusing on issues would be a good thing for Democrats in the future.

Green – Many Ohioans agree with the Democratic party on key issues more than they agree with the Republican party.  But the key thing for the Democrats to do is to present those positions clearly and cogently to voters.  And that’s something they were unable to do this time for a whole variety of reasons but it’s something they could certainly do in the future.

University of Cincinnati Political Science Professor David Niven says the Democrats must focus their message on the issues. 
Niven – “There were ballot questions across the country on things like the minimum wage and even where Republicans were storming to victory in campaigns, the minimum wage was passing.  And there were ballot issues on gun control that passed.  So this was not a victory for Republican policies.  It was a victory for their status as an alternative to Democrats and President Obama.  So the opportunity for Democrats is that Republicans push so far past the policy agenda of the people that the Democrats can stand up in two years and offer not just an alternative but offer a policy that’s closer to where the voters are.”

Niven says the fact that the party is essentially in the process of starting over is actually a good thing.

Niven - “The Democrats in Ohio are liked G.M. was five years ago.  They have an infrastructure, a history but they failed at their most fundamental goal. And so they have to really start from zero with a total reorganization. They simply cannot continue this cycle where they don’t offer relevant candidates.  And that’s true at the top of the ticket but it’s true at the bottom the ticket.  And as a consequence, not only do you fight a well-funded, well run campaign apparatus but you do it with one hand tied behind your back.”

An associate professor of Political Science at Capital University says Democrats must do a better job of educating those who support the party’s candidates in presidential races.  Suzanne Marilley says it’s vital that the party make voters aware of the importance of midterm elections.

“All of us need to pay way more attention to what is going on in the Statehouses because that legislation affects us every day.  And if the national media picks up on that and the local media finds ways to impress that truth on the public, perhaps that will bring more attention and scrutiny.”

All three political scientists say it’s important for the Democratic Party to take a honest look at where it is and include coalitions of people who support its issues in the rebuilding process.  And if that happens, they say it could be possible for the party to be competitive again, as early as 2016.

Jim has been with WCBE since 1996. Before that he worked as a reporter at another Columbus radio station, and for three newspapers in Southwest Florida.
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