New book explores Ohio's bellwether role as predictor of presidential elections

We've picked the winner 28 of last 30 times
Will Ohio pick the next president?
Will Ohio pick the next president?
Posted at 6:07 AM, Sep 20, 2016

CINCINNATI -- If "right time, right place" impacts book sales, Kyle Kondik's "The Bellwether: Why Ohio Picks the President" should be atop every bestseller list in the country.

At a time when presidential politics appears to be a national obsession for millions of people, Kondik's book seems as if it should be required reading for serious voters and political operatives -- especially Ohioans trying to decide whether Hillary Clinton or Donald Trump should occupy the White House for the next four years.

"Going back to 1896, Ohio has voted for the winner in 28 of the last 30 elections, which is best in the country," Kondik said Monday night as he made brief remarks and then answered questions for about an hour at the Public Library of Cincinnati and Hamilton County in downtown Cincinnati.

"And Ohio only deviates about two points from the national average (of all voters), which is also the best in the country," said Kondik, who now works in Washington, D.C., as the managing editor and communications director of "Sabato's Crystal Ball," a highly respected and non-partisan newsletter produced by Larry J. Sabato, director and founder of the University of Virginia Center for Politics.

Kyle Kondik

Kondik also conceded that there's a chance that his book's title -- which reflects Ohio's long track record of voting for winners in the presidential race -- could prove to be dead wrong on Election Day.

"I think there's a distinct chance that (Donald) Trump will win Ohio yet lose the election," Kondik said, adding that Ohio seems to be trending toward becoming solidly Republican. "There's definitely a path for Clinton (to win) without Ohio, but I don't think there is one for Trump."

If Ohio becomes reliably Republican for every presidential election to come, the state will lose some of its predictive mystique if Republicans and Democrats continue to alternate as White House occupants every four to eight years, Kondik suggested.

Kondik said the state's diversity -- going back to when it became the 17th state in 1803 -- might have a lot to do with its status as a microcosm for the rest of the country.

Some of the earliest settlers represented a blend of New Englanders, former residents of the mid-Atlantic states, and Revolutionary War veterans who moved west from Virginia, he said.

Today, Ohio is a little whiter than the rest of the country and has an African-American population that's fairly consistent with percentages elsewhere in the country, Kondik told about 40 people who attended the library event. But the state lags behind other parts of the country in its percentage of Hispanic and Asian residents, he said.  

During the question-and-answer period, Kondik was joined on stage by Howard Wilkinson, former politics reporter for The Cincinnati Enquirer and current politics reporter, columnist and blogger for WVXU-FM, a National Public Radio affiliate in Cincinnati.

In an online post Monday, "Sabato's Crystal Ball" made it clear it hasn't altered its prediction about the outcome for the Nov. 8 election.

"Let us make our view perfectly clear: We still believe that Hillary Clinton is more likely than Trump to win the election, and she still has the advantage in the Electoral College," the post read. "Yet it is equally apparent that she has stumbled badly in recent weeks, fueling Trump's polling advance. And the Republican nominee has more pathways to 270 electoral votes than he did before."

To be perfectly clear on another matter: "The Bellwether" isn't based on a quick flyover analysis by a national columnist who spent 45 minutes in the Cincinnati airport waiting for a connecting flight to Washington, D.C.

Kondik grew up outside of Cleveland, graduated from the E.W. Scripps School of Journalism at Ohio University in Athens, where he was the editor of The Post, the student newspaper, and then worked for newspapers in New Philadelphia and Elyria. Before he went to work for the University of Virginia and its Crystal Ball newsletter, Kondik was director of policy and research for former Ohio Attorney General Richard Cordray.

And just in case you somehow missed it, Ohio is once again considered a critical swing state in the presidential election. Its record of consistently voting for winners has only two blemishes: Richard M. Nixon won Ohio but lost to John F. Kennedy in 1960, and Thomas E. Dewey carried the state in 1944 when Franklin D. Roosevelt won his fourth term.

And if you're wondering why Trump and his supporters want to be our best friends forever, Kondik's book -- published in June by the Ohio University Press -- drives home the point that no Republican has won the presidency without winning the Buckeye State. 

But this election could be different from any other.

One major wildcard in this race is the fact that both candidates have turned off millions of voters.

"Maybe a quarter of the electorate doesn't like either of the candidates, and I wonder if that will depress turnout," Kondik said, predicting that Libertarian candidate Gary Johnson and Green Party candidate Jill Stein could attract up to 10 percent of the ballots cast in the presidential race this November.