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Battleground state shifting demographics altering old rules

WILMINGTON, OHIO | The rapid demographic changes that are giving traditional battleground states more of a blue hue in the 2016 presidential race have yet to sweep through Ohio, where white working-class voters have embraced Donald Trump’s brash style and populist message.

But Mr. Trump’s appeal has been less resonant in booming states like North Carolina and Virginia, where a rush of minorities and young professionals has poured in to score jobs and earn college degrees.

The shifting demographics have reshaped the presidential map and taken some of the shine off Ohio’s status as a bellwether in presidential elections: The state has picked the president in every election since going against John F. Kennedy in 1960.

“Ohio is both A) historically a little more Republican than the nation and B) demographically friendly to Trump because it’s whiter than the nation, and its white electorate has a slightly lower education level than the white electorate nationally,” said Kyle Kondik of the University of Virginia’s Center for Politics and author of “The Bellwether: Why Ohio Picks Presidents.”

“Given the trends in the white vote — noncollege whites moving toward Trump and college whites moving away — this is a tradeoff that works to Trump’s benefit in Ohio,” Mr. Kondik said.

Two days out from the election, Mr. Trump is polling ahead of Hillary Clinton in Ohio and has led in the state for most of the fall.

Mrs. Clinton, meanwhile, has typically been getting the better of her Republican opponent in North Carolina, and for months has sat atop a solid lead in Virginia, which broke a 40-year streak of voting Republican in presidential contests when it backed President Obama in 2008.

Political handicappers are now forecasting that Mrs. Clinton is poised for victory — even without Ohio.

U.S. Census data shows that nearly eight in 10 people in Ohio identify as white, compared to a little over six in 10 in Virginia and North Carolina. African-Americans compose more than 20 percent of the populations in each state, and Hispanics make up about 9 percent of their respective populations.

In Ohio, African-Americans are 13 percent of the population, and Hispanics less than 4 percent.

“These groups are, as you know, overwhelmingly Democratic,” said Mack D. Mariani, professor of political science at Xavier University. “The Democrats have done a great job in all three states at registering minority voters, but there are simply fewer of them here in Ohio.”

There also are lots of elderly voters in Ohio and fewer people that have earned a bachelor’s degrees or higher — almost 26 percent — than in Virginia, at 36 percent, and in North Carolina, at 28 percent.

“I think the political culture in both of those states has been reshaped in recent years by growth in the number of white-collar professional positions,” Mr. Mariani said. “In [Northern Virginia] that means government jobs and jobs that rely on government contracts. In North Carolina, growth in engineering and tech jobs. Those are the sorts of workers who have tended in recent years to be considerably more [Democratic voters] than in the past, particularly when you factor in that many of them are white and relatively affluent.”

“We are much like Iowa in that respect, and that is why I think Ohio and Iowa have been out of sync with other battleground states,” said Paul A. Beck, professor emeritus of Political Science at Ohio State University.

Mr. Obama provided a blueprint on how Democrats can win the state, driving up the black vote while keeping the Republican margin of victory among white voters to a minimum.

In 2012 Mr. Obama captured 41 percent of the white vote, which made up 79 percent of the electorate, 63 percent of voters ages 18 to 29, 96 percent of African-Americans and 54 percent of Hispanics.

Mr. Trump and his allies doubt Mrs. Clinton can maintain the Obama coalition here, arguing that she will lose working-class Democrats in areas like Youngstown to the New York Republican, and predicting that minorities will be much less excited about voting for her than they were for Mr. Obama, the nation’s first black president.

Locals — even those backing Mrs. Clinton — agree.

“I think traditionally it has been a [Democratic Party] area, but I think there has been a lot of hard feelings over jobs leaving, and anybody who pulls at those strings is going to have some kind of sway” said Corey Rich, 33, of Youngstown, Ohio. “I think that is the concern. He is pulling at the strings of people that feel disenfranchised so they will listen to him. I think that is the way it is here. You hit the job note hard, you might get the people that were borderline.”

Mrs. Clinton countered last week by deploying Vermont Sen. Bernard Sanders to Youngstown State University, which Mr. Rich attended, in Mahoning Valley — a traditional Democratic stronghold — as well as Mr. Obama to Columbus and rapper Jay-Z to Cleveland in hopes of energizing both the young voters and African-Americans that she needs to turn out in large numbers to win.

The dynamic here has been further complicated by Republicans distancing themselves from Mr. Trump, with Gov. John Kasich writing in Sen. John McCain and Sen. Rob Portman indicating he is going to write in Mr. Trump’s running mate, Indiana Gov. Mike Pence.

Lifelong Republican voters are also jumping ship, including 78-year-old Georgialiah Hannah, who had never supported a Democrat in a presidential race before casting her early vote Friday for Mrs. Clinton.

“It’s sad,” Ms. Hannah said of the GOP’s nominee. “I wish we had someone we could have voted for, and we didn’t.”

Still, Democrats concede Mr. Trump’s message is working in Ohio — even among fellow Democrats.

“They want change because they don’t see anyone helping them out, and I can understand why they say that and why they feel that way,” said Francie King of Lithopolis.

“They believe that Donald Trump is the person who is going to finally help them by changing the way things work in Washington,” Ms. King, 67 said. I don’t see that happening, but that is what they truly believe.”

Source: www.washingtontimes.com stories: Politics

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