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Trump’s Ohio suburb slide signals peril in industrial north

A Biden for President sign in a lawn of suburban Dublin, Ohio, on Friday, Sept. 18, 2020. In the campaign for House control, some districts are seeing a fight between Democrats saying they'll protect voters from Republicans willing to take their health coverage away, while GOP candidates are raising specters of rioters imperiling neighborhoods if Democrats win. (AP Photo/Julie Carr Smyth)

COLUMBUS, Ohio (AP) — Peggy Lehner, a Republican state senator in
Ohio, doesn’t sugarcoat what she has seen happen to support for
President Donald Trump in her suburban Dayton district.

hasn’t ebbed. It’s crashed,” said Lehner, who is not seeking reelection
in the district of working-class and white-collar communities the
president won comfortably four years ago. “He is really doing poorly
among independents.”

Trump’s chances for a second term rest
heavily on being able to maintain the margins he won by in 2016,
particularly in suburban areas. Trump campaigned outside Dayton and
Toledo Monday, as liberal Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg’s
death stoked questions of whether the sudden court vacancy would
energize more suburban voters who support abortion rights or social
conservatives in small-town and rural areas who oppose them.

his Ohio visit, Trump credited himself with boosting manufacturing in
the state prior to the pandemic and warned of economic devastation if
Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden beats him in six weeks. “Put
simply, if Biden wins, China wins,” Trump said. “If we win, Ohio wins
and most importantly, in all fairness, America wins.”

Republican lawmakers and strategists in Ohio say they are seeing
research that shows a near-uniform drop in support from his 2016 totals
across every suburban region of the state.

They say that Trump,
who won Ohio by 8 percentage points in 2016, maintains a yawning
advantage in more rural areas and small towns. Still, Republicans are
concerned that if he is losing badly in suburban areas in Ohio, it is a
signal that Trump’s hold on other states in the industrial heartland
that delivered him the presidency may be in peril.

million-dollar question becomes, how does that translate in Wisconsin,
Michigan and Pennsylvania?” said Corry Bliss, a Republican strategist
who managed Ohio Sen. Rob Portman’s 2016 reelection campaign. “It
translates into probably not a very good night.”

Ohio has long
been a bellwether. No Republican has won the White House without
carrying the state since the advent of the modern two-party system, and
no Democrat has since 1960.

Trump is faring worse than four years
ago in communities in essentially all suburban areas around Ohio, from
its major cities to its several mid-size metro areas, more than a
half-dozen Republican operatives tracking races across Ohio say.

has slipped in suburbs to the east and west of Cleveland, where he
narrowly edged Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton in 2016, they say. In
the blue-collar suburbs of Youngstown, where Trump won by double digits,
the same appears to be true.

In affluent suburbs, such as Dublin
northwest of Columbus, 2012 GOP nominee Mitt Romney won by almost 20
percentage points. Four years later, Trump narrowly lost to Clinton.
Less than two months before the 2020 election, Republicans were
concerned about signs the trend in Dublin has continued, according to
several GOP operatives following legislative and congressional races.

is debate among state Republican strategists about how many new voters
there are left to lift Trump in rural and small town Ohio.

Ohio Republican Party Chairman Kevin DeWine, a second-cousin to Gov.
Mike DeWine, said, “I just don’t see him getting more votes.”

veteran Ohio GOP strategist Doug Preisse countered, saying, “I perceive
a commensurate intensification in the support for Trump in small

There is less debate in other states. Pennsylvania
Republicans say across the longtime GOP stronghold of Chester County
west of Philadelphia, for instance, Trump has slipped as far as he has
in Ohio’s suburbs, though in more populous towns and in a state he
carried by fewer than 45,000 votes.

Former Pennsylvania Rep. Ryan
Costello, a Republican, said that the suburban electorate is rapidly
diversifying in ways that hurt Trump, especially among young families
and among those concerned about the coronavirus.

“I think Trump has proved to be the accelerant,” said Costello.

Clinton carried Chester County by almost 10 percentage points, the
first Democrat to win there since Lyndon Johnson in 1964. Chester is
also steadily growing, with a population of about 525,000, the fourth
largest in the state.

“I think that there is a higher likelihood
at this moment in time that Trump performs worse in the suburbs,”
Costello said. “It’s his tone. It’s the chaos. Perhaps a combination.
But certainly the pandemic, the mismanagement of the pandemic.”

But there are other more nuanced suburban concerns for Trump in Pennsylvania.

west of the state capital, Harrisburg, Cumberland County’s rapid
development is diversifying the Capital City’s longtime
Republican-leaning suburbs. The combination of growth and declining
support for Trump generally across suburbs has hurt the president in
south-central Pennsylvania’s competitive 10th Congressional District,
where Trump won by 9 percentage points in 2016, said Terry Madonna,
director of the Center for Politics and Public Affairs at Franklin and
Marshall College in Lancaster, Pennsylvania.

A central question is
whether Trump can, as his campaign predicts, spur even more support
than in 2016 from rural voters in Pennsylvania, Michigan and Wisconsin.

is leading in these areas but nowhere near by the percentage he won
them by in 2016,” said Madonna, who has conducted polls in the state for
more than three decades.

Republicans have similar concerns about
suburbs in Michigan, notably in Oakland County, Detroit’s more upscale
northwestern neighbor and Michigan’s second-most populous county.
Democrats have consistently carried it, though Republican George W. Bush
came very close in 2000 and 2004, while Mitt Romney was competitive in

Trump did worse there than any Republican in the past 20 years, with the exception of John McCain in 2008.

Trump appears less concerned about shoring up those losses, and is
instead mining rural, small-town and working-class regions in all three
states for more of the white conservative base that propelled him to

Trump campaigned near Bay City, Michigan, last week, a
struggling former automotive manufacturing city on Lake Huron where he
won in 2016, after Obama had carried Bay County twice.

Trump has lost support in the populous suburbs of southeast Wisconsin
since 2016, according to the Marquette University Law School poll. And
instead, he has been campaigning in blue-collar Oshkosh and the Wausau
area, far north of the Republican epicenter encircling Milwaukee.

Republicans promoting legislative candidates in typically GOP-leaning
suburbs of Ozaukee County north of Milwaukee and Waukesha County to the
city’s west warned this month that “Republicans should be worried
because President Donald Trump is currently under-performing in the
districts,” according to GOP website

“It’s a
combination of blunting the departures in the suburbs and juicing the
rural areas,” said John Selleck, who ran Romney’s 2012 Michigan
campaign. “But can he make up the lost suburban votes elsewhere?”

was his formula for winning Ohio four years ago. He received the
highest or second-highest percent of Republican votes of any candidate
since 1980 in 60 of Ohio’s 88 counties, according to state voting data
compiled by Mike Dawson, a public policy consultant and creator of

While GOP strategists say Trump can make
up the suburban losses with new voters, Marquette University’s polling
director Charles Franklin sees no evidence in research tracking Trump’s
support this year to suggest new voters are choosing him.

“He definitely needs to ramp it up and deliver on what the campaign is talking about, big increases of turnout of Trump voters in regions other than the suburbs,” Franklin said. “It’s not in the polling now.”

Beaumont reported from Des Moines, Iowa. Associated Press writer Marc Levy in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, contributed to this report.