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America Made Great Again?

17 min read

Lead up to Trump presidency electrifies partisan divisions on campus

The sun rose at 7:05 a.m. in Athens on Tuesday morning. It greeted 26-year-old Jay Edwards as he prepared to canvass outside Baker University Center. The clock was ticking, and in less than 24 hours, Edwards would know if he had secured a place in the Ohio House of Representatives.

Also vying for representation was Sarah Grace, Edwards’ Democratic counterpart. Separated by her opponent by years and political viewpoints, Grace hit the bottom of Court Street later that afternoon, cardboard box stuffed with pamphlets in hand.

“I’m feeling optimistic. I’m wearing my pantsuit,” Grace said.

The mother of five has that in common with Hillary Clinton, who competed on the same platform, on the same day, under vastly different circumstances.

Grace, Edwards and Clinton are separated by mere inches of black text and white paper on the Athens County voting ballot. Hundreds of students waited in lines stretching from Baker’s Ballroom past the Office of Global Affairs, as there was only one major polling location on campus this year.

The New Political’s informal exit polling predicted a close race between Grace and Edwards, and in a historically-Democratic county, the neck-and-neck numbers indicate far more than mere local drama. From the nationwide presidential race to the upperclassmen voters at the First Presbyterian Church, 2016’s race to the White House and beyond is fraught with partisan tension.

Back on the Athens Block bricks, Lou Gentile, Democratic candidate for the Ohio Senate, shot his first video segment of the day.

“Starting out here in Athens County, making our way up and down the river here in the 30th district,” Gentile said, the backdrop of Baker behind him. “I want to thank all my supporters for all your great work. We’re going to have a great night.”

Gentile, the incumbent for Ohio’s 30th Senate District seat, has focused his time in office on economic growth and job creation. He also prioritized the protection of veterans’ rights, particularly in creating the Ohio Veterans Opportunity Act, which provided many education and employment opportunities for Ohio’s veterans.

With 94 percent of precincts reporting, Republican Frank Hoagland claimed a 6-point victory over Gentile. The 30th district, an area that typically leans Democratic, has not seen a Republican senator since 1984. The New Political’s exit polling predicted a 12-point lead for Gentile, the only poll that ultimately proved to be an inaccurate depiction of results.

As night fell, heart rates quickened and Bobcats For Life set up its infamous anti-abortion rights propaganda posters. Clinton supporters amassed and, as protesters protested the protest, polling centers began the process of shutting down.

“I think it shows a little bit of desperation, I mean they’re standing in front of our signs so that people won’t see them. I think it’s almost like panic mode,” Chris Drummond, vice president of Bobcats for Life, said. “But it draws attention to us. They’re standing out there saying vote for her, but all this stuff she openly supports is right behind them.”

Photo by Heather Willard
Photo by Heather Willard

While anti-abortion advocates openly campaigned against Clinton, NextGen Climate Ohio did the opposite. Splotches of bright orange appeared across central campus as the organization set up giant inflatables, free food and more at Howard Park to persuade student voters to cast their ballots against Republican nominee Donald Trump.

Volunteers offered golf cart rides accompanied by blaring hip hop music to students on their way to local polling places. They also brought dogs from the Athens County dog shelter and set up inflatable mazes and games for students and the community to enjoy in an attempt to lure voters to its side.

Fiona Akomolede, a master’s candidate in political science and a volunteer for NextGen Climate, reaffirmed the organization’s unspoken endorsement of Hillary Clinton.

“I voted for a candidate who is for women’s rights, for minority rights and is going to make the world a better place,” Akomolede said. “I’m really, really scared about the candidate I did not vote for having access to nuclear weapons.”

Volunteers also addressed local issues like oil fracking, which Clinton has changed her stance on over the years.

“I honestly think that a lot of intelligent politicians change their stances over time as they become aware of current issues,” Akomolede said. “I think that fracking has only recently been really researched, so I think that by changing her stance on that she’s actually making an intelligent choice as opposed to somebody who just sticks with their stance regardless of what evidence pops up.”

Climate enthusiasts brought rambunctious canines, but the most popular dog award in Athens goes to Hensley, the pomeranian in support of Clinton, by a landslide. Hensley’s owner, Robert Malott, had been driving his Clinton/Tim Klaine emblazoned pickup around College Green for weeks in advance, often accompanied by pantomime performances of Donald Trump.

Photo by Heather Willard
Photo by Heather Willard

“Hensley says to people, ‘I know humans. Humans are some of my best friends,’ and he says about Donald Trump, he says, ‘Donald Trump, you’re not a good human,’” Malott said, hoisting his miniature companion into the air.

In all seriousness, he confessed that he just wanted to make a difference in his community beyond the impact of a Democratic vote.

“Now my wife and I vote a straight ticket for all the local social issues, all the school levies, all the social agency levies, because our purpose in life is not just to make money and to have money but it’s to live our lives in such a way as to make this world a little better,” Malott said. “Maybe that’s idealistic but we believe, and we taught our kids, both who are adults, that you need to be active in your community, active in your school and take part.”

Incumbent Sen. Rob Portman, R-Ohio, won in a landslide against former Gov. Ted Strickland. Portman, who was predicted early in the election cycle as the favored winner, was called soon after Ohio’s polls closed.

Portman’s campaign may have found success because he focused on bipartisan issues, most notably the heroin epidemic in Ohio and nationwide.

“I do see myself as a conservative, as Portman is, but I do like that he is a pro-gay marriage conservative, and tends to be more moderate than other Republicans in the Senate,” said Jarred Long, a freshman studying business and economics student who voted for the first time this year.

Despite a commanding victory statewide, Strickland had major support in Athens County. Portman had just 40.25 percent of the county vote, while Strickland grabbed the majority with 53.97 percent, according to the summary results.

“Really the reason I voted for (Strickland) is because I agree with his plan,” said student Jacob Williamson. “I think he’s going to be more in agreement with Clinton and Sanders’ plan, because I know they joined together and created their own college plan, health care plan, and things like that … so I think Portman might not help as much with enacting that. I think Strickland will help more and that was very evident when he came and spoke.”

Exit polls illustrated close margins in student voter statistics, including plenty who abstained from voting on local elections.

“I feel like (Trump) and I share the same values in terms of economics and things,” Hunter Berthol, who voted at the First Presbyterian Church, said. “Definitely with him being a businessman I feel like he has the skill set to get this country out of debt.”

Third-party candidates were not disregarded either, with 944 votes for Gary Johnson in Athens County and 507 for Jill Stein, according to the summary report of the 2016 general election, which was delivered in print to The New Political staff.

“I voted for Gary Johnson,” Long said. “Since I disagree completely with both major party candidates, I’m looking forward to 2020, and if Gary Johnson receives five percent of the national popular vote, the Libertarian Party receives federal funding in the 2020 election.”

Third party candidates gaining prominence nationally is only one upset in the political sphere. In Athens, Edwards made headlines with an unprecedented win over Grace.

The theme of the evening was red, with Ohio being swept by continuous Republican victory. Portman, Edwards, Hoagland, and finally, Trump, all took precedence as the clear winners in Ohio’s nail-biting race. With contested final results in the presidential election, Trump reached 276 electoral votes at 2:31 a.m. on Nov. 9.

Photo by Heather Willard
Photo by Heather Willard

Marilyn Icsman and Amanda Ehrmantraut contributed reporting.

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