With one party’s candidate a virtual lock and the other party in a tight race, the Ohio presidential primary in 2016 seemed to parallel the 2008 primary.
Nearly the same number of Ohioans voted in primary elections this year — about 3.2 million — as did in 2008. The difference is 61 percent more Republican ballots were cast this year, while Democrat voting was down 47 percent.
“Depending on where the electricity is, it’s going to turn out more voters,” said Christopher Kelley, a political science professor at Miami University.
Nearly 2 million Ohio voters cast Republican ballots this year, while about 1.2 million voted Democrat.
Less than two of every three Republican ballots this year were cast by Republican party members. According to exit polls, about 28 percent of voters in the Ohio Republican primary identified as independent, while another 8 percent were Democrats.
Ohio Gov. John Kasich was able to stay alive in the race for the Republican nomination for president by capturing 47 percent of the vote, besting Donald Trump’s 35.9 percent. Texas Sen. Ted Cruz received 13.3 percent of the vote, while Florida Rep. Marco Rubio got 2.3 percent.
Rubio suspended his campaign that night after losing his home state to Trump.
Kasich won among self-identified Democrats (56 percent) and independents (44 percent) who voted in the Republican primary. Trump earned 37 percent of votes cast by Democrats and 35 percent from independents. Less than 10 percent of Democrats voting in the Republican primary chose a candidate other than Kasich or Trump, while just more than 20 percent of independents chose neither candidate.
Need a refresher? Video from Kasich's primary victory below:
Despite its being mathematically impossible for Kasich to pick up enough pledged delegates to earn the Republican nomination outright ahead of the Republican National Convention, it’s still possible that he could wind up being the party’s presidential nominee. Once considered the inevitable nominee, Trump’s momentum took another blow Tuesday when Cruz won Wisconsin.
“For John Kasich, I think a contested convention is his best bet,” Kelley said.
The Republican Party’s leadership seems to be bracing for the possibility. On March 31, the party launched ConventionFacts.gop, which breaks down what would happen if none of the party’s presidential candidates is able to secure the required 1,237 pledged delegates before the GOP convenes July 18 in Cleveland.
A contested convention is “slightly more likely than not,” said David Niven, a political science professor at the University of Cincinnati.
Republicans would be hurt in down-ticket races by Trump and, to a lesser extent, Cruz, Kelley said.
Republican convention rules do not prohibit someone who is not a declared presidential candidate from being named the party’s nominee.
In 2008, the electricity was with the Democratic Party primary. Republican John McCain was considered the prohibitive favorite to become the Republican nominee, while Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama were in a dead heat for the Democratic Party’s nomination.
McCain locked up the Republican nomination on March 4, 2008, the day of the Ohio primaries.
About 1 million voters cast Republican ballots in the Ohio primary election that year.
Ahead of the 2008 Ohio primaries, conservative radio host Rush Limbaugh encouraged Republicans to vote for Clinton, a call to action Limbaugh dubbed “Operation Chaos.”
Clinton would go on to defeat Obama in Ohio with 53 percent of the vote.
Thanks to our state’s open primary system, strategic voting was abnormally prevalent in both elections. Clinton’s 2008 Ohio victory, though, was a product of her campaign’s approach to the state, Niven said, which was similar to how a candidate would campaign for Iowa or New Hampshire.
“Certainly at the margins there were people who were voting strategically,” Niven said, “but a bigger factor is just pure competition: A more uncertain race brings out more voters, and for Democrats that uncertainty was greater in 2008 than it was for 2016.”
Clinton has yet to shut the door on her 2016 rival, Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders, but Niven said she’s very likely to be the party’s nominee. She holds an advantage of more than 200 pledged delegates, a 400-plus advantage in superdelegates and demographics that favor her in the states yet to vote, he said.
In Ohio, Clinton won 56.5 percent to Sanders’ 42.7 percent. “(Ohio’s primary) was not a defining race,” Niven said. “The race was defined before it got here.”
With Tuesday’s victory in Wisconsin, Sanders has won the last six state primaries. He hasn’t made significant enough gains in pledged delegates to derail Clinton’s path to the nomination, though, Kelley said.
“Mathematically, I don’t see how Bernie Sanders does it,” Kelley said.
Democrats are to hold their convention in Philadelphia starting July 25.
PRIMARY NUMBERS AT A GLANCE
Results of the 2008 and 2016 presidential primaries in Ohio and the number of delegates won. Source for all figures is the Ohio Secretary of State’s office. (Percentages may not add to 100 because of rounding.)
Roque De La Fuente
*–Includes Jeb Bush, Ben Carson, Chris Christie, Carly Fiorina, Mike Huckabee and Rick Santorum; all dropped out of the race before the vote.
2008 Republicans *
*–Votes for at-large delegates; Thompson and Romney withdrew before the vote.