Lay of the land: Ohio Democratic primary

Though Ohio isn’t quite as kaleidoscopic as Wisconsin, its voting patterns in Democratic presidential primaries is pretty colorful. And, as in Wisconsin, the political diversity of its major cities often mean that the rural counties determine the outcome of close races.

The map below shows how each Ohio county voted in the last three Democratic primaries that were at all competitive. In 1980, incumbent president Jimmy Carter defeated Ted Kennedy 51 percent to 44 percent; the map shows whether Carter got a majority in each county. In 1984, Gary Hart nosed out Walter Mondale, 42-40, with Jesse Jackson geting 16 percent of the vote. And in 2004, John Kerry got 52 percent to John Edwards’s 34 percent and Dennis Kucinich’s 9 percent; the map shows whether Kerry got a majority in each county.

In 2004, just over half of the votes came from the eight counties highlighted below. Cleveland’s Cuyahoga County and Warren’s Trumbull County are distinguished by their habit of going against the state as a whole — and going for union favorites and economic populist candidates such as Kennedy, Mondale, and, if you combine their votes, Edwards and Kucinich. Trumbull County, at least, would seem to be a must-win for Hillary Clinton (the black vote in Cleveland may make Cuyahoga tougher to carry), though a victory there obviously doesn’t guarantee a statewide win. Columbus’s Franklin County, Canton’s Stark County, and Dayton’s Montgomery County, by contrast, mirror the state as a whole in competitive races — but Jesse Jackson did carry Franklin even as he was overwhelmed by Michael Dukakis statewide in 1988. Does that make Dayton the decider next week? Or are the less populous counties that link Canton to Columbus to Dayton the key?

As for the rest of the major voter troves, Akron’s Summit County is less labor-oriented than other parts of northeastern Ohio, opting for Hart over Mondale. Youngstown’s Mahoning County similarly went for Hart, but it was also the only county in the state where Edwards outpolled Kerry in 2004; an anti-establishment candidate probably has to carry Mahoning to win statewide. (But who is the anti-establishment candidate at this point in the 2008 campaign?) Cincinnati’s Hamilton County went for Jackson in both 1984 and 1988. Since Cincinnati is one of the country’s most Republican major cities, it’s likely that the Democratic primary electorate here is relatively narrow, and thus more favorable toward liberals and "outsider" candidates. (And Obama is running strongly here, according to recent polls.)