Last week’s Ohio presidential primary demonstrated two truths about Republican Gov. John R. Kasich. Truth One: Only a fool underestimates Kasich. Truth Two: There are a lot of fools in American politics.
Whether and how John Kasich can land this year’s Republican presidential nomination is for the Big Picture People to work out. But there’s also this Kasich fact-of-life — several bystanders recalled it Tuesday night — and here it is: Kasich’s never lost a race for public office. Kasich also isn’t afraid to do what’s right, as when he bypassed fellow Republicans in the General Assembly to expand Ohio’s Medicaid health care program.
Kasich and his entourage don’t care if his sometimes herky-jerky manner draws snickers, or sneers. All Kasich and his crew want is for people to vote for John Kasich. And lots of Ohioans have, first in Columbus and its suburbs, then statewide.
Still, as always in statewide contests, the map of last week’s Republican joust between Kasich and (onetime Hillary Clinton supporter) Donald J. Trump was interesting. Here’s the plain-vanilla description of the Ohio counties whose GOP voters favored Trump over Kasich:
Trump carried 29 of Ohio’s 32 officially defined Appalachian counties, counties the Ohio Revised Code describes as “geographically isolated and economically depressed.” The Appalachian counties form a crescent from Ashtabula to suburban Cincinnati, along or near the Pennsylvania border or the Ohio River.
To maximize the chances of landing some of the pork-barrel spending that Congress earmarks for Appalachia, the Revised Code includes Ashtabula, Trumbull and Mahoning counties as part of Appalachia. It’s unclear if anyone in Youngstown or Warren now serves a side of grits with pierogis. But more Republican voters than not in those three Western Reserve counties indicated, as of last week, that, for president, they preferred Trump to Kasich.
Kasich did top Trump in the three other Appalachian counties: Holmes (Millersburg); Muskingum (Zanesville); and Ross (Chillicothe). In counterpoint, Trump, while carrying the lion’s share of Ohio’s Appalachian counties, carried four that are outside Appalachia: Darke (Greenville) and Preble (Eaton), along the Indiana border; Logan (Bellefontaine), northwest of Columbus; and Clinton (Wilmington), northeast of Cincinnati.
If there’s one thing Trump’s Ohio counties share (besides the economic gloom that afflicts most of them) that common factor is feistiness. In 1992, independent presidential candidate H. Ross Perot drew 21 percent of Ohio’s statewide vote. Perot drew a bigger-than-statewide percentage in 20 of the 33 Trump counties. And in 1968, American Independent race-baiter George C. Wallace drew 11.8 percent of Ohio’s statewide presidential vote. Five of this year’s Trump counties were among Wallace’s Top 12 Ohio counties, including Clermont, next to Cincinnati. Clermont County gave Wallace 24.2 percent of its 1968 presidential vote – more than twice Wallace’s statewide percentage in Ohio that year.
For the most part, the Trump counties have lost good-paying union jobs, in steel, manufacturing or mining, and what jobs remain for working people in those parts of Ohio, or what new jobs may arrive, pay less, have no security, and offer skimpy benefits — if any.
These aren’t hopeful places. According to the state Health Department, the statewide age-adjusted 2009-14 death rate from unintentional drug overdoses (typically, heroin, fentanyl and the like) was 16.6 per 100,000 Ohio residents. The death rate from unintentional overdoses was worse than Ohio’s statewide overdose death rate in 30 counties; 18 of them — 60 percent — are counties Trump carried.
Voters in those suffering parts of Ohio should know by now how little bread that political hoopla can put on a family’s supper table. Considering Trump’s showing Tuesday, some Ohioans don’t.