CINCINNATI – Complications pummeled Ohio Republicans this week as they sought to put up a united front headed into the GOP's national convention.
One of their best-known politicians threw his support behind Democrat Joe Biden, their Republican state attorney general challenged the Trump administration, and President Donald Trump himself took on an iconic Ohio company in an area of the state where loyalties to job security ran higher than loyalties to party four years ago.
With early voting set to begin in less than seven weeks, Democrats are enthused about their possibilities in a state crucial to Trump, one he carried by 8 points over Hillary Clinton in 2016. It's a striking turnaround for a party that just last year was wondering if the one-time swing state — with 18 electoral votes — had moved out of its reach.
Since Trump faced Clinton, Democrats have seen progress in the 2018 midterm and 2019 local elections, including in key suburban areas. Trump's call Wednesday to boycott the Akron-based Goodyear Tire & Rubber Company, while inaccurately claiming the company had announced a ban of Make America Great Again hats, gives the party new material as it tries to return struggling blue-collar workers to the fold.
Jane Timken, the Republican Party chair who ousted an ally of former Gov. John Kasich from that job, was dismissive of Kasich's speech endorsing Biden at the Democratic National Convention and expects Trump's momentum to build.
“I feel pretty good,” she told The Associated Press. "The president has a 95% approval rating among Republicans and, aside from folks like John Kasich, who was a never-Trumper, I think the rest of the party is very united and excited about re-electing President Trump.”
A June 28 Quinnipiac University poll placed the figure at 92% among Ohio registered voters, with 93% of Democrats favoring Biden and independents divided 44% for Trump and 40% for Biden.
Kyle Kondik — an analyst at the University of Virginia Center for Politics who wrote “The Bellwether,” a 2016 book about Ohio presidential politics — said it remains to be seen whether Kasich will sway fellow Republicans. Kasich carried Ohio over Trump in 2016's Republican presidential primary, but his campaign soon ran out of steam.
“I think Kasich represents a lot of his friends and neighbors (in suburban Columbus) who probably feel the same way he does,” Kondik said. “They've just seen enough.”
Kondik also said it's too soon to predict whether Trump's Wednesday assault on Goodyear, an integral part of Akron's “Rubber Capital” history, will cost him among the northeast Ohio auto industry voters who backed him in 2016. Four years ago, a single remark by Clinton — that the transition to clean energy meant “we're going to put a lot of coal miners and coal companies out of business” — damaged her performance in eastern Ohio's coal country, where she had been running well.
Even Akron’s most famous native, LeBron James, jumped on Trump's Goodyear comments: “Unbelievable brand and unbelievable history,” he said at the NBA’s pandemic home in Lake Buena Vista, Florida.
U.S. Rep. Tim Ryan, a Democrat from Youngstown, helped lead a rally in Akron the next day, joined by local and union officials and a crowd of workers holding up such signs as “It will be a Goodyear without Trump.” With working families struggling during the coronavirus pandemic-pounded economy, Ryan said: “We have enough challenges."
"I’ve never seen anything like this,” said Bill Conner, a United Steelworkers union local official in Akron, saying Trump’s boycott call could hurt “an American company, American workers.”
Kondik commented, though, that such controversies seem to bounce off Trump like, well, rubber.
“So many things happen on a day-to-day basis that you think might move voters, and they really don’t,” Kondik said.
Timken brushed the Goodyear comments off, saying the president was “calling out a policy” over free speech concerns.
She also called “Democrat-manufactured” the uproar over Trump's attempts to block funding for the U.S. Postal Service ahead of the November election, which drew a letter from Republican Attorney General Dave Yost warning Trump that “radical changes” would “place the solvency of the Post Office above the legitimacy of the Government itself.”
And she doesn't think the bribery scandal that led to federal charges this summer against then-Ohio Republican Speaker of the House Larry Householder will resonate with voters Nov. 3.
Kondik thinks Trump is still favored to win Ohio, but faces a “significantly closer” race than before. Democrats note that, even with the potential of not winning in the state, they are forcing Trump to use resources and time that could have gone to other battlegrounds to defend Ohio.
Carr Smyth reported from Columbus. Associated Press writer John Seewer in Toledo, Ohio, and AP Basketball Writer Brian Mahoney in Lake Buena Vista, Florida, contributed to this report.
This story has been corrected to correct name of GOP party chair Jane Timken rather than Jane Timkin.