The Sinking Swing State?

When I talk with some resignation about "the sinking swing state," I'm not talking global warming and the flooding of Florida. No, I can't say I'd be particularly sad if Florida went literally underwater -- that state is so weird someone came up with a Twitter page just to chronicle its insanity. Anyway, Florida's not for me -- too hot, frankly.

No, I'm talking about Ohio, that swing state that has picked the winning presidential candidate every year since 1964 (yes, yes, Dubya's win in 2000 gets an asterisk, my fellow liberals). Ohio, as I make clear in my podcast The Ohio Revolt, is my hometown, and it breaks my heart to see a recent article in The Wall Street Journal that it has not done as well as other states in terms of recovery. Check out the map on that link; if half of U.S. counties haven't recovered from the recession, then Ohio's case is even more dire, with about two-thirds of its counties not yet recovering.

There's also the fact that Ohio still has a pretty bad foreclosure problem. And if you look at some other key stats about Ohio, like Politico did, you'll see the state gets a gentleman's C in pretty much everything. The message I got out of it: Ohio is not Mississippi, but it could be.

I put this issue to my podcast buddies on The Ohio Revolt, and I was surprised by the conversation. For me, it may be an irreversible, inevitable decline. To them, it was an issue of better leadership and better long-term planning. "When you talk about leadership in Ohio right now, a unifying vision is what the state needs," Haki Crisden said. "The vast majority of jobs lost since the recession just won't return. The key is to plan forward and find jobs that have the potential for growth and invest in the areas that would lead to the creation of those jobs," Bob Lang added.

I know this issue is going to keep coming back, in part because I ambushed the conservatives on the podcast with an article I found in the New York Times comparing two other Midwestern states, Minnesota and Wisconsin. The article points out that Minnesota decided to proceed on a plan of progressive taxation and meaningful investment, and has done really well for itself, whereas Wisconsin under Scott Walker has chosen the austerity route and is suffering. Ohio, with its spendthrift Republic governor, is more like Wisconsin than Minnesota. At some point the right-wingers on my podcast are going to find some statistic to challenge this argument.

Fellow podcaster Ian King, who lives in Ohio and has that rare job of management in manufacturing, said, "Ohio is a manufacturing state with a fifty-year trend of losing manufacturing jobs. We needed leaders to start addressing this issue thirty years ago. Until we get leaders who can work together to reinvent Ohio's job economy we will continue to decline." True enough, but what kind of leadership does Ohio really need?

One thing is for sure: Whatever Ohio does to turn itself around, it has to do it soon. The bad trends, as Ian points out, go back decades. One last statistic for you: Population growth has not kept up with the rest of country. Which means it may eventually not be very significant when it comes to swing states, because it will have fewer electoral votes. In the 1960s Ohio had 26 robust electoral votes. In the 1970s, it had 25 elector votes; with every passing decade Ohio lost electoral votes, until this decade it's down to just 18 electoral votes.

Eighteen votes. If this keeps happening, people will stop wondering why Ohio is so important.