Local political leaders from both parties agreed Wednesday that a likely General Election matchup between Republican Donald Trump and Democrat Hillary Clinton will be closer than some pundits suggest.
Trump’s decisive victory in the Indiana primary on Tuesday pushed rivals Ted Cruz and John Kasich out of the race and led the chair of the Republican National Committee to declare Trump the presumptive nominee. And while Clinton has won just six more states than rival Bernie Sanders, she holds a comfortable delegate lead thanks in large part to super delegates who are committed to supporting her.
Trump and Clinton are also the top picks among Highland County voters, according to results from the March primary election in Ohio. While Kasich won Ohio, Trump coasted to victory in Highland County with 49 percent of the Republican vote over Kasich, Cruz and Marco Rubio. Clinton won Ohio and also was victorious in Highland County, favored by local Democrats with 55 percent of the vote over Bernie Sanders.
Kay Ayres, chair of the Highland County Republican Party, said she has not been a Trump supporter, and she struggled Wednesday to conceal her disappointment.
“He’s the one people chose,” she said. “I’m not going to beat my brains in. I believe in the system. But he’s not the one I would have liked.” She acknowledged that Trump is popular with most Highland County Republicans, considering the primary results.
She said Trump was aided nationally by free media which saw him get 70 percent of the coverage allotted to candidates of all parties, according to a statistic she saw, and “he already had 100 percent name I.D.”
Still, Ayres said she thinks the Trump-Clinton race will be a close one. “It’s going to be a fight,” she said, agreeing that Trump could win states not normally competitive for Republicans, although, she said, he could lose other states that are dependably in the GOP corner in most elections.
Ayres said Clinton is still facing the prospect of an indictment over her use of a private server for government emails, or at least the FBI asking for an indictment, which could impact the race, she said.
Either way, said Ayres, with Trump all but wrapping up the nomination, “I’ll bet we don’t hear him talking about a rigged system anymore.”
Gary Lewis, the Hillsboro city auditor who is president of the Highland County Republican Club, said Wednesday that Trump will perform better in November than many think right now.
Like Ayres, Lewis is not a Trump fan, and, also like Ayres, originally supported Rubio. But he said he is grudgingly accepting Trump as the lesser of two evils, and “we can’t let Hillary or Sanders get the opportunity to appoint four or five Supreme Court justices.”
Lewis credited Trump for his victories, and said that polls today showing Clinton winning in November can’t be trusted. He said the race will get tighter.
Lewis said he sees a path to victory for Trump, although it will likely involve an electoral map that is significantly different than in recent decades, with Trump competitive in states like New York, California and Pennsylvania, which have been solid Democratic strongholds in recent presidential elections.
Lewis said that the party will largely unify around Trump, eventually. “More people than would care to admit it will coalesce around him,” said Lewis.
Kasich, the Ohio governor who on Tuesday night indicated he was staying in the race, announced Wednesday that he is suspending his campaign.
Before that announcement, Lewis said Kasich should join Cruz in accepting the inevitability of Trump as the GOP nominee, even though he understood Kasich’s strategy of a contested convention. But with humorists and late-night talk show hosts beginning to target Kasich for staying in the race, “he’s becoming comedic fodder,” said Lewis.
Unlike some local Republican officials, Hillsboro mayor Drew Hastings has been a Trump supporter from the start. He said Trump’s appeal is not based on party affiliation.
“He could be anything else, and I would have been for him,” said Hastings. He said Trump represents “a major protest vote against the status quo and political correctness.”
He said that while Trump sometimes says things “that make me roll my eyes,” the presumptive nominee often reminds the mayor of himself.
“I see very definite parallels,” said Hastings. “We’re both anti-establishment and against business as usual. We’re not afraid to be outspoken,” he said. And, Hastings added, he and Trump get a lot of comments about “our crazy hair.”
On the Democratic side, county chair Dinah Phillips said Wednesday that even though most polls show Clinton with a strong advantage, “one day can mean a year in politics.” She said both Trump and Clinton “speak their minds,” which, she said, can get them into trouble.
Phillips said she has talked with people in both parties who are not thrilled with their choices this year. She said Trump’s unpredictability can make it difficult to campaign against him, and she doubts Clinton is taking him lightly.
“Trump could win by a landslide, or lose all 50 states,” she said. “This year of all years has been a strange cycle. Most of us have never seen anything like it.”
Phillips said that Republican down-ticket candidates could benefit from GOP donors who will not support Trump, but will instead give larger amounts to candidates for the U.S. Senate, for example.
Phillips said she was happy that Kasich had decided to drop out of the race, noting that Ohio taxpayers are on the hook for the cost of Ohio Highway Patrol protection afforded the governor wherever he travels. The cost of that service has exceeded $300,000 so far, according to the Columbus Dispatch.
Steven Williams, who was the first black candidate to run for mayor of Hillsboro when he sought the Democratic nod in last year’s primary, said Wednesday he was not surprised that Trump wrapped up the GOP nomination this week.
Williams, who said his favorite Republican candidate was Kasich, said Trump “appeals to a lot of people’s fears and concerns, some valid, some not.” He said Trump’s theme of “Make America Great Again” is contrary to Williams’ belief that “we still live in the best country in the world.”
While some accuse Trump of inciting racist attitudes, Williams said he wouldn’t go that far, but he said Trump “comes close to the fence, but doesn’t cross the fence.”
Williams said he respects Clinton, going back to her days as first lady when her husband was president. He said he supported Barack Obama in 2008, but he also attended a John McCain rally that year before casting his vote in the primary for the future president.
He said he did not support Obama just because the candidate was black – “he’s bi-racial,” said Williams – but because he brought the enthusiasm Williams felt was needed in the White House.
But Williams said he’s looking forward to the 2016 campaign between Clinton and Trump, with one candidate representing the “backbone establishment,” and the other being the “rogue” candidate.
Williams predicts a turnout higher than 2008 or 2012, and said, “It will be an exciting election.”
Reach Gary Abernathy at 937-393-3456 or on Twitter @abernathygary.