Keener political hands than mine have noted that election night was cruel for Democrats in the Eastern Time Zone. Especially those of us who’d incautiously raised our hopes a bit high. Here in Ohio,we longed for redemption. In downtown Bowling Green “No Massacre Here,” dozens of volunteers, local committee members, and a few candidates gathered at Howard’s Club H—a townie bar on the lowbrow side—to view the returns.
Many recalled how our efforts proved crucial to Bill Clinton’s and Obama’s victories. I cherish the moment, watching returns in 2012, when the Ed Schultz Show on MSNBC (may Ed rest in peace)flashed a blue Wood County on the monitor. Shrieks of joy resounded through the old Cla-Zel Theater, site of that season’s enormous watch party. People leaped from their seats and ran outside to Main Street, cheering to the night sky. Needless to say, it came as a thrill to see national TV recognize us as the bellwether of the bellwether. And we had gotten the job done.
Meanwhile, the nation continues to suffer from our red swing in 2016. But with angry women fired up from Appalachia to Oak Openings, and a powerful #BlueWave to buoy us along, Ohio was ripe to swing back again, right? After all, our voters approved an anti-gerrymandering initiative by 75% last spring. Folks are clearly wising up.
True, the effects of non-partisan redistricting won’t be felt before 2022, but a lot has happened recently. After our current President’s inauguration, Northwest Ohio sent hundreds of participants to Women’s Marches and other mass protests around the region and across the country. We took buses to New York and DC, carpooled to Toledo, Ann Arbor, and Columbus. Soon after, numerous Facebook pages sprang up that remain active today, keeping folks informed of #Resistance activities. We have crowded into elected officials’ chambers, written and called, in the ongoing movement to defend democracy against insidious decline.
At this year’s party in downtown BG, everyone knew Amy McGrath should take a big early lead in Lexington and Frankfort if our wave was tsunami-sized like we envisioned. But in spite of her viral celebrity and stellar bio, McGrath’s star soon dimmed. And hopes of hanging tough in the Senate faded as Indiana returns delivered a cold dose of reality therapy.
The night was young, but anxiety set in.
By now we know that the wave election delivered historic victories across the country. But that night, as Ohio statewide races bleeped in the bottom corner of the jumbo screen, we saw the wave crest well below our dreams.
Would Ohio seriously pick retread weasel Mike DeWine, mired in education-funding scandals, over consumer champion and #TheNerdWeNeed, Richard Cordray? Would we pass up brilliant candidates Zack Space, Kathleen Clyde, and Rob Richardson—leaving voters at the mercy of Republican state control as 2020 elections approach?
Yes. Yes, we would.
Our hometown crowd was reduced to cheering for Joe Manchin, the DINO we love to hate. His consistent lead came as autumnal comfort, while the nominees we volunteered for were left to consider alternate plans for the future.
I had come out to see results in the race that formed my life’s mission of the previous four months: US Congress, Ohio-05. I was hoping to see my candidate, Michael Galbraith, break 40% against our entrenched Republican, Bob Latta. In a big wave, the 5th might even give Michael 45! Or, if all the Republicans, who cheered and donated to our campaign represented as many others, dared we cherish hope of cracking 50 and sending Mr. Smith to Washington?!?
True, our district has been in Republican hands since 1938. That has to tell the most starry-eyed among us something. Even so, as we discovered on many canvassing forays: every small town, and quite a few farms, in the reddest county harbors disgruntled citizens,praying for change. And not just old hippie-types or young malcontents. Farmers, veterans, teachers — all numbered among our avowed supporters from Williams County and the endangered Michendoh aquifer to Grand Lake St. Mary’s, where algae blooms choke a once-proud rural attraction.
Besides, none other than statistics guru Nate Silver said it was possible that some “deep-red district not on anyone’s radar” might flip in a historically high tide. Why not ours? Ohio’s northwest corner is soybean country. Small factory country, with plenty of folks hurting from ill-advised tariffs and false promises.
And Michael Galbraith was a terrific candidate. No sacrificial college-town lamb offering up his name for the sake of putting someone on the ballot, Michael is a Republican turned progressive; not a firebrand, but a pragmatist with his heart in a good place. In my perspective, he seemed perfectly suited to our district. Traditional by all appearances, he surprised many with an eagerness to take on issues our typical Republican studiously ignores: polluted waterways pouring into our Great Lake, Erie, the price of soybeans, increasing ravages of climate change, school safety and funding. With no days off for months on end, Michael campaigned with great energy, rarely missing a chance to introduce himself to strangers and ask for their vote. Even editors of conservative red-county newspapers took note of his willingness to go the distance over 14 counties and the better part of two years. He attended all our county fairs, most of them multiple times, as well as local festivals, markets, forums, etc.
Most importantly, Michael possesses a genial personality and thoughtful, yet engaging manner. Add to that: he’s a native son of Maumee, retired professor of finance at our local university, small business owner, and Rotarian! Campaign volunteers joked that we should be sure to order GALBRAITH fleece hoodies, “in time for Michael’s presidency.”
And the competition? Bob Latta is both a professional and a legacy congressman. His father, Delbert, held office for 30 years, leaving Congress with the national debt nine times higher than when he entered. Son Bob is widely considered a do-nothing, in spite of creating an illusion of hyperactivity by co-sponsoring the numerous bills that emerge from the House Commerce Committee. Many Republicans admit he’s an empty suit. Not the sharpest tool. So slow on his feet, he can’t be trusted to speak in an unscripted forum. But as one Latta supporter wrote to the Opinion page of a district newspaper: “Bob is for guns and against abortion.” So who cares about that other stuff?
Nonetheless, Bob got primaried in 2018. His leading opponent was Robert Kreienkamp, a retired farmer and broadcast engineer from southeast Wood County. Kreienkamp spoke out about Latta’s well-known pattern of glad-handing with donors while avoiding rank-and-file constituents like a plague. He decried Latta’s failure to take action on urgent issues: tariffs and school safety. After the primary’s ritual anointing of Latta yet again, Kreienkamp became the chairman of Republicans for Galbraith, an active committee within the campaign.
Early in the election season, I was thinking that our most important race was Sherrod Brown’s reelection. That was probably true, but as Sherrod’s poll numbers looked consistently good, I reconsidered my plan to volunteer for his campaign. A key factor in my decision to work, instead, for Bob Latta’s challenger was personal vendetta.
In 2017, while Republicans in Congress plotted behind closed doors their long-promised repeal of the Affordable Care Act, my husband of 26 years lay dying of a rare and virulent cancer. At 73 years old, he was still, technically, working at the time, in part because I didn’t hold a job outside our home: we both got our health care through his employer. If his status changed, I would be left at 62 with no coverage, a few years shy of Medicare eligibility. That’s exactly what happened. At the end of April, the month of his death, my insurance was cancelled—a distressing experience on top of bereavement.
I told this sad story to the clerks at Bob Latta’s district office many times during my husband’s illness and afterward. The Congressman himself was never in, but I also called on the phone and wrote emails, begging to know what I should do when they repealed the ACA. I happen to have a life-threatening pre-existing condition, so a return to the bad old days could spell my doom.
The rapidly shifting series of promises emanating from Congress in those days failed to convince me that Republicans would safeguard my coverage. By now it’s clear that, whether via lawsuits, rule-fudging, or deregulation, they will do no such thing.
Ignoring numerous constituent comments, Bob Latta voted for repeal without meaningful replacement, just as he did many times in the Obama years.
So come mid-summer 2018, Galbraith for Congress was calling my name. I heard that the campaign held an open, weekly meeting in the next town up the highway. I pictured a half-dozen old ladies (like myself) arguing about bumper stickers. Red background or blue? Pointless stuff. But I gritted my teeth and drove to Perrysburg, knowing I had to get involved.
What I found was something else entirely. Sixty people crowded into the back room of a large antique store, all talking enthusiastically (never mentioning the color of bumper stickers), until the candidate stood up and called the meeting to order. Visitors from several local campaigns and organizations were in attendance and made statements of support. I learned that, although there was no paid staff, committees on field operations, fund-raising, communications, social media, and other essential functions were up and running, headed by volunteers.
My perfect niche awaited: Letters to the Editor. Over the coming weeks, I coordinated submissions of more than 175 letters by 30-some writers to 20+ newspapers in all 14 counties of the district. Besides harping continually on the need to turn out and vote, we covered the issues: health care, the opioid crisis, tax cuts, tariffs, income inequality, and education—“Is it any wonder that Education Secretary Betsy DeVos’s yacht was vandalized here in the state of Ohio?” We heard great praise from readers and shared encouragement with other campaign volunteers as our publication rate went up and up.
Nor did other committees slack off. Approximately 29,000 doors were knocked, including many for Ohio United Campaign canvassing for the full Democratic ballot. Thousands of handwritten postcards went out, in addition to other mailings. Several talented professionals stepped up to offer services in producing quality videos that the campaign posted to Facebook and YouTube. All told, at least 270 volunteers contributed their time.
Admittedly, this is not as impressive as, say, Danny O’Connor’s campaign down in the 12th District. But consider that ours is an overwhelmingly rural region, our population substantially whiter than the national average, and percentage of college-educated adults well below. With modest support from the Ohio Democratic Party, and none from the national, Galbraith ran ads on radio and in the papers. He appeared on several local public affairs shows, but paid television remained out of reach. By comparison, the 12th is largely suburban and enjoyed the blessings of nationwide attention.
Indeed, a number of our volunteers pledged to withhold future donations to both the DNC and DCCC, unless or until those organizations take enough interest in our region show a small sign of support for our candidates. In the absence of larger backers, Michael Galbraith tapped into the power of a group that didn’t exist before last year: Indivisible. He launched his general election campaign by attending monthly meetings of one such group, the Maumee River Progressives, most of whose membership promptly signed on to support him. Several other locals—Ohio District Five Indivisible, Wood County, and even Toledo—facilitated communications and turned out volunteers.
In spite of that unprecedented energy, on the night of November 6, as results of our labors trickled in, the crowd at Howard’s Club H in Bowling Green thinned quietly. Without benefit of professional help, we won 35% of the vote for Michael Galbraith, budging the 5th District to the left by 14%, as compared to 2016.
Not enough to inspire shrieks of joy.
Across Ohio, Dems won no House pick-ups. Danny O’Connor’s team moved their district by 32% but still came up short. Richard Cordray and the great slate of candidates that visited Wood County and spoke with such hope would not be taking office. True, Sherrod Brown would return to the Senate, and by morning we would be glad to see that our Supreme Court justices (for whom “my writers” turned out postcards until our arms ached) had triumphed, along with a handful of state legislators.
Important as they are, those victories appeared pale and wan in the cold light of November 7. Still more painful were the obituaries soon running in the national press: “Ohio Now a Red State” – “Ohio Out of Reach for Dems” – “Urban-Rural Divide Sinks Buckeye State Hopes,” and the like.
Are we to be written off so quickly?
A friend who volunteers for the ODP in Columbus assured me Democratic volunteers had made great achievements, turning out at least 20,000 more rural voters in 2018 than two years before.Good to know…although of course, it’s frustrating that our gerrymandered state—like many others—continues to yield such lopsided results. On Thursday after the election, a hundred of the usual suspects gathered in downtown Toledo for a “Hands Off Mueller” rally. And a week later, Wood County Indivisible convened at our local coffeehouse to write postcards for Mike Espy, then standing up to a righteous racist in the Mississippi Senate run-off. We offered what support we could to Espy’s voters,who give such deep meaning to the slogan, “Never surrender.”