CLEVELAND, Ohio — Ohio remains one of the few competitive states in the presidential race, still too close to define as red or blue.
Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton and her Republican rival Donald Trump have already logged plenty of hours stumping and shaking hands across the state. Clinton sports a small lead in recent polls, but the race remains tight.
The politicking won’t stop until November, when Ohio reveals its true colors.
So what else do the candidates need to do to win the Buckeye State?
Persuade supporters to actually cast a ballot, says Baldwin Wallace University political science professor Thomas Sutton.
Whether it’s voting early in person, early by mail or showing up at the polls on Election Day, it’s all about translating support into votes, especially in battlegrounds like Ohio.
Clinton and Trump must motivate their party bases.
Clinton needs to get the urban Democratic voters who backed her predecessor, President Barack Obama in 2012, to the polls. And Trump needs to ensure he garners more turnout than former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney in Republican suburban strongholds.
That could be challenging for both Clinton and Trump.
Obama, as the first black president, showed especially strong support from minorities. Clinton might not match that level of appeal, though she does enjoy high approval among minorities.
And Romney easily appealed to suburban conservative voters. But Trump’s controversial rhetoric may turn off well-educated, wealthy suburbanites.
Here’s a breakdown of what both candidates need to accomplish to win Ohio — and get out the vote.
Clinton needs to focus on turning out big numbers in urban, Democratic strongholds. Her sweet spots are in Cleveland, Cincinnati, Columbus, Toledo and Dayton.
“The key for Hillary Clinton and her campaign is to maintain the same percentage turnout or something similar to what Obama had in 2012,” Sutton said. “She’s got to get those really big margins in Cuyahoga, Franklin, Lucas, Hamilton, Montgomery, and then the surrounding counties. So that’s number one. She has to maintain that.”
So what does that look like?
Something like this: In Cuyahoga County in 2012, 645,212 people cast ballots. Obama defeated Romney in a lopsided victory, 447,237 to 190,660. That’s a margin of more than 250,000.
That gap can be the difference between winning and losing the state. Romney lost Ohio largely because of his landslide loss in Cuyahoga County.
Obama saw 74 percent voter turnout in precincts where he won up to 60 percent of the vote. He saw 63 percent voter turnout in precincts where he won by more than 80 percent of the vote.
Clinton boasts a strong ground game, which will aid in turning out the vote. Her campaign has been organizing in the state for about four months, and has benefited from the groundwork laid by the Ohio Democratic Party for nearly a year.
The campaign is focused on courting voters across Ohio, including in traditionally Republican communities, Ohio State Director Chris Wyant said. But the campaign understands the importance of a Democratic stronghold like Cuyahoga County, where margins matter, and is investing heavily here.
“Ultimately, we really do want to run an 88-county strategy here in Ohio,” Wyant said. “The recognition that certainly a place like Cuyahoga is certainly important and obviously has long been a place where you can expect a lot of Democratic votes, and we should win by some margin in the county.”
Trump does well in rural, more sparsely populated counties. To make up the difference and succeed in the state, he needs to focus on fast-growing, suburban communities.
Trump needs to win over Romney voters in those areas — and register as many new voters as he can there, too. He needs a higher voter turnout than typically seen in traditional Republican counties. Think Delaware and Butler counties. It’s a friendly crowd for most Republicans, but not necessarily for Trump.
“This is fertile ground for any Republican to make inroads against Clinton,” Sutton said. “Any Republican — frankly any Republican other than Trump — would be doing really well right now because there is such a visceral anti-Clinton feeling.”
So these voters might not like Clinton, and that should work in Trump’s favor. The big problem? They might not like Trump either.
Trump’s gruff and off-the-cuff persona may turn these voters off. They might look at his gaffes and ask themselves, “Is he really presidential?” Sutton said.
The other problem? To connect with these suburban voters, Trump needs a strong ground game. The candidate is beginning to organize in Ohio, and volunteers have started knocking on doors. From a ground-game standpoint, the Trump campaign in Ohio is leaning heavily on a longstanding project by the Republican National Committee to organize in key battleground states.
But he’s way behind Clinton, by the numbers.
Trump’s most recent campaign filings show about 80 people on the campaign payroll nationwide, compared to roughly 700 on the Clinton campaign. Trump has opened about 15 field offices across Ohio — Clinton has more than 25.
“The difference between Clinton and Trump regarding the ground effort in Ohio is that Clinton has a planned, funded, organized, and persistent effort staffed by professionals and reliant on a core network of staunch long-time supporters,” Sutton wrote in an email. “Trump, by contrast, is starting from scratch, relying primarily on generating enthusiasm at his rallies, and trying to then attract supporters to become involved in the ground game – phone banking and door-to-door canvassing.”
What the Trump campaign lacks in numbers, it makes up in enthusiasm, the campaign’s Ohio director Bob Paduchik said. The campaign has the manpower and the energy required to run a solid ground game, he said.
“I think that advantage allows us to get better turnout, to get new volunteers knocking on doors and making phone calls for the candidate,” he said. “That’s where I see our true advantage in this.”
The Trump campaign wants to reach out to voters across the state, Paduchik said. The campaign isn’t just looking to do well with typical Republican suburban voters, but also with Ohioans on typically Democratic turf. They want everybody.
“I also think that it would be shortsighted for us to just focus on the exurban counties that are important to traditional Republican candidates because I think with Mr. Trump we have a lot of opportunity to reach disaffected Democrats and independents, and we’re doing so,” Paduchik said.