CLEVELAND — When the Democrats announced this summer that they were picking Ohio as the site of their fourth presidential debate, it was thought that it might be held in Columbus, Cincinnati or Democratic voter rich Cuyahoga County where Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton went head-to-head in 2008 ahead of the state's March primary.
Instead they chose Otterbein University in Westerville, which sits on the border of Republican voter rich Delaware County.
"Delaware County is a big suburban county north of Columbus and the second biggest margin of victory that Republicans traditionally would get," said Ohio Democratic Party Chair David Pepper. "If a Democrat got to the mid 30s you were happy there."
In Delaware County, Barack Obama got 37.5% of the vote in 2012, Sherrod Brown 38.5% as well that year and Hillary Clinton in 2016 got 38.7%, but in the 2018 midterms, Pepper said they saw a shift.
"Sherrod Brown, Rich Cordray, Danny O'Connor for Congress, they all got to the mid 40s in Delaware County. That would be like telling me that we would only get to the mid-50s in Cuyahoga, that would be a disaster for us," Pepper said. "The shift in suburbs is a game changer."
Hillary Clinton in 2016 lost Ohio to Donald Trump by 446,841 votes but she also under performed Barack Obama's 2012 vote total in the state by 433,545 votes, a difference of just 13,296 votes.
"The biggest differences between Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton in Ohio, one was enthusiasm in our cities but another was he lost rural Ohio the smallest 50 counties 60 percent to 40 percent. Cuyahoga County alone overcame those 50 smallest counties," Pepper said of Obama's ability to carry the state in 2012.
"Hillary Clinton lost those same 50 counties 73 percent to 27 percent. She lost them by 400,000 votes, there are not enough Democrats to overcome that," he said.
"So really in Ohio you've got to campaign everywhere, you're going to win some places big like Cuyahoga and other large urban counties," he said. "And then you've got to go talk to people like the farmers who are being let down by these trade policies, like parts of blue collar Ohio that are seeing manufacturing slow down and you may not win all of those places, you may not win most of them but if you're going to lose them, lose them 60-40 don't lose them 75-25."
And so that is why Democrats are showing the suburbs of Columbus a little extra love this week in hopes that it is returned in November of 2020.
"This new suburban shift gives us huge opportunities to basically take away what used to be where Republicans got their biggest vote margins," Pepper said. "It's not an either or game in Ohio it's 'and.' You've got to campaign in all of these areas."