Who's Voting in Ohio?

Voters in the Buckeye State will have a chance on Tuesday to help decide the Democratic nominee for president. Stephen Koff of the Cleveland Plain Dealer explores the demographics behind the state's Democratic primary.

Copyright © 2008 NPR. For personal, noncommercial use only. See Terms of Use. For other uses, prior permission required.

ALISON STEWART, host:

The debate last night in Cleveland was a reminder that the voters of the Buckeye State will once again have a pivotal role in declaring the president of the United States.

In '04, only 119,000 votes separated President Bush and John Kerry, in a state with a population of 11 and a half million. With the race between Clinton and Obama getting tighter and tighter, the good folks from Cuyahoga or Lorain County could make a big difference on March 4th.

To give us perspective on the Ohio's voters, Stephen Koff of the Cleveland Plain Dealer joins us. He's the paper's Washington bureau chief.

Hey, how are you Steven?

Mr. STEPHEN KOFF (Washington bureau chief, Cleveland Plain Deale): I'm great. A little bit sleepy after last night's debate. Otherwise, I'm fine, thank you.

STEWART: I could imagine. Thanks for waking up and joining us.

Mr. KOFF: Sure.

STEWART: Can you give us a quick snapshot of the demographic of Ohio? White, black, male, female, economic standings?

Mr. KOFF: I can, but I think it would make a little more sense to talk about the voters, because those are the ones who are going to decide this. So it's overwhelmingly blue collar. The college-educated ranks are slightly smaller than the national average. Black voter turnout is typically 12 percent. Could be a little bit higher in this election, but typically 12 percent. It's sort of a stereotypical blue-collar state.

STEWART: So, I'm trying to decide from that description, is Ohio in '08 a blue state or a red state?

Mr. KOFF: Ohio is probably a purple state, that if I were to guess right now, I'd say it's leaning blue.

STEWART: And why would describe it as a purple with blue undertone?

Mr. KOFF: For a couple of reasons. While it handed the victory to president Bush in '04 and in 2000, it elected a Democratic governor by a pretty wide margin in '06. Likewise a Democratic - a fairly liberal Democratic U.S. senator defeated an incumbent Republican.

STEWART: Is that Sherrod Brown over DeWine?

Mr. KOFF: That is Sherrod Brown, and he ran on a very populist theme, a kind of theme that you've heard, it seems, Hillary Clinton discussing quite a bit lately. She sounds to me a lot like Sherrod any more. And because this state has bled to many jobs and, like a lot of other places, just sort of seems to want to change.

STEWART: Well, Hillary Clinton and - according to the exit polls - does well on low-income whites, middle-income whites, people without a college education and women. So in theory, Ohio should be pretty good to her.

Mr. KOFF: In theory, it should be. And right now, the polls have shown and still show that she is ahead a little bit. Now that's eroding a little bit, but if you go back two weeks ago, a Quinnipiac poll, had her ahead by 21 points. Quinnipiac went back, and just the other day, had her ahead by 11 points. So it's eroding, and as you probably know, Obama's pattern is to come from behind and close that gap. But right now, I'd say that she is the frontrunner, but she's really looking over shoulder.

STEWART: In one article I read, it described that one in three households in Ohio, someone is somehow related to a union. And Barack Obama received big Union endorsements, including sort of the mother load, the international brotherhood of Teamsters with 1.4 million members. Why did he get that endorsement instead of Senator Clinton?

Mr. KOFF: I honestly don't know. I don't know what the internal politics of Teamsters were, and I can't tell you that. Also…

STEWART: Well, how big of an advantage of is it for him?

Mr. KOFF: I think it definitely helps. Ohio is a big UAW, United Auto Workers kind of state. And, you know, the Clintons have a lot of history there, but again, SEIU is a growing political union. The teamsters backing Obama, that absolutely helps.

STEWART: Now, can we talk a little bit about the practices - the physical practice of voting in Ohio? Correct me if I'm wrong, but you can walk up and declare you party affiliation the day of the primary?

Mr. KOFF: That's right. You just walk up and say, hey, give me a Republican ballot or give me a Democratic ballot.

STEWART: So how big a factor is the independent vote?

Mr. KOFF: It could swing this a little bit if it's really close, especially given the fact that there's much of a race at all on the Republican side. Typically, in primaries, you know, these things come down to the hard core. But again, everybody is ratcheting this up a little bit. So I think you'll see more independence voting in this, and that indeed could help Barack Obama.

STEWART: The Clinton has been encouraging early voting in Ohio?

Mr. KOFF: Yeah, you can - you know, like, you know, like a lot of states, you can go in and you can request your ballot early and get in there and vote early. And people will do that. You know, but I've heard Barack Obama do the same thing. And I don't know that the early voting will give one or the other a distinct advantage.

STEWART: We're talking to Stephen Koff of Cleveland Plain Dealer.

Now, Steve, on your blog, you said this year's primaries will really test Ohio's voting trends. How so?

Mr. KOFF: Because in the past, again, you could really count on sort of the demographics working in a way that would favor Hillary Clinton. Again you'd count on that blue collar vote. You'd count on the African-American vote of maybe being about 12 percent. I have had a political consultant who, granted, is doing some work with the Obama campaign or on behalf of Obama voters who suggest they could go up a whole lot higher, I mean it could go up as high as 20 percent. I think that's a little bit optimistic but, you know, you move it a little bit here tweak it a little bit there and that changes the dynamic.

MARTIN: Well, you were going to have a very busy day next Tuesday. Stephen Koff, Washington bureau chief of the Cleveland Plain Dealer.

Thanks for being with us in THE BRYANT PARK PROJECT.

Mr. KOFF: Thank you very much.

RACHEL MARTIN, host: Hey, stay with us. We all know if you have a bad boss your life might be a little more difficult to navigate, but you know what if you have a really, really nice boss there can be some challenges with that too. So, we'll dig down into that with Jared Sandberg.

You're listening to THE BRYANT PARK PROJECT from NPR News.

Copyright © 2008 NPR. All rights reserved. No quotes from the materials contained herein may be used in any media without attribution to NPR. This transcript is provided for personal, noncommercial use only, pursuant to our Terms of Use. Any other use requires NPR's prior permission. Visit our permissions page for further information.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by a contractor for NPR, and accuracy and availability may vary. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Please be aware that the authoritative record of NPR's programming is the audio.

Comments

 

Please keep your community civil. All comments must follow the NPR.org Community rules and terms of use, and will be moderated prior to posting. NPR reserves the right to use the comments we receive, in whole or in part, and to use the commenter's name and location, in any medium. See also the Terms of Use, Privacy Policy and Community FAQ.