Today concluded by twelfth and final week with For Our Future Ohio – and what a wonderful note on which to have finished! For the past two weeks, our organization has been heavily engaged in the special election for Ohio’s 12th congressional district. As a left-leaning, labor-affiliated group, we endorsed and advocated for Danny O’Connor, the Democratic candidate. Having been born and raised in Newark, Ohio – located within the district – I was particularly excited to witness and participate in a competitive contest in a decidedly conservative district that has not seen a competitive election since 1984. In a sense, the district embodies the broader political realignment we have witnessed since 2016: the exodus of rural and traditionally-Democratic industrial areas from the Democratic Party, and a reciprocal shift in well-educated suburban areas from the GOP to the Democrats. This afforded our organization a unique opportunity to build political infrastructure in suburban counties in transition – such as Delaware County – as well as to appeal to those ancestrally-Democratic areas which have strayed from the party in recent years. And, indeed, this election constitutes a critical bellwether for the state overall: if a coalition of urban, suburban, and traditionally-Democratic voters can be built and sustained, Richard Cordray and Sherrod Brown – the Democratic candidates for governor and Senate, respectively – stand a far better chance of election and re-election.
Our involvement in this election was quite strenuous. Resources were mobilized, canvassers were hired, and digital advertising was commissioned. Indeed, as an intern, I was directed to spend most of my time between Thursday and Tuesday “in the field,” canvassing in support of Danny O’Connor. Each day, I was given lists of between 50 and 100 voters to contact. These voters were generally Democratic or unaffiliated, though some Republicans were included. Most voters were highly receptive to our message and stated that they already voted for, or planned to vote for, Danny O’Connor. Canvassing was certainly challenging in some aspects – direct voter contact is an exercise far different from anything I’ve previously done in this internship – but it was highly rewarding. Canvassing forces you to articulate yourself and your opinions, engage in meaningful conversation, and be flexible and adaptable.
Election night was among the most emotional, wonderful experiences of my time with For Our Future. Following a day of canvassing and “get out the vote” efforts, For Our Future’s staff gathered to watch the election results as they were tabulated. As anticipated, the urban portions of OH-12 – Columbus and its immediate suburbs in Franklin County – voted overwhelmingly Democratic. Delaware County, a suburban, historically-Republican county which hasn’t voted for a Democratic presidential candidate since Woodrow Wilson in 1916 – narrowly voted Republican (46%-54%). This was the Democratic Party’s best performance in the county in recent memory, and certainly seems to validate the notion that well-educated, traditionally-Republican suburbs are trending increasingly Democratic. Other portions of the district, rural and post-industrial, voted heavily GOP.
Among the most interesting features of this contest was the overall demographic character of the district. Indeed, the district contains heavily urban, suburban, and rural portions. On its face, these areas seem to have little in common, and, indeed, this district was heavily gerrymandered by the heavily-Republican state legislature as part of the GOP’s broader REDMAP strategy to maximize Republican structural advantages in House elections. Among the most prominent features of this strategy included “packing and cracking” – that is, “cracking” heavily-Democratic cities among several Republican districts and, where this was impossible, packing as many reliably-Democratic voters into one or several congressional districts – producing a few heavily-Democratic histrics, and many more GOP districts. However, because OH-12 is emblematic of this “cracking” strategy, it includes a portion of the Democratic city of Columbus. In theory, Democratic voters in Columbus are outnumbered by GOP-affiliated voters in the suburban and rural portions of the district, but the enthusiasm of Columbus voters, coupled with the transition of suburban voters from the GOP, has rendered this district more competitive than expected or intended. In short, gerrymandering has produced unintended, negative consequences for the Republicans.
Simply engaging in this election and familiarizing myself with the history and political/demographic profile of this district has been incredibly engaging and rewarding – and, indeed, a wonderful, exhilarating way to conclude this internship. I will make my final post this weekend, reflecting upon the internship in its entirety, my professional development, and my personal takeaways.