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Ohio Democrats, despite great uncertainty, have their eyes on the future

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Following the exhausting interruption we’ve now come to know as Election Week, the last thing anybody wants to think about right now is the 2022 midterm elections. 

That is, unless you’re Daniel Kilgore. 

Ohio Democrats struggled in this year’s election. Kilgore’s opponent in the primary, Joel Newby, lost to incumbent Rep. Steve Stivers by nearly 27% in the race for Ohio’s 15th Congressional District.

Other candidates in Ohio for the U.S. House of Representatives, such as Kate Schroder and Desiree Tims, lost by double digits, even though those races were expected to be close.

Democrat Katie O’Neill lost the race for the 94th Ohio House district by more than 20 points and Ohio Republicans maintained their supermajorities in the General Assembly. 

Meanwhile, President-Elect Joe Biden, who clinched the White House for Democrats, lost the state of Ohio by 8%. 

By the numbers, Ohio has been trending red since Biden and former U.S. President Barack Obama won the state by 5% in 2008. The Democrats held a 10-8 majority in the state’s U.S. House delegation following that election. Democrats have never held more than four Ohio Congressional seats this decade. 

Yet none of this has phased Kilgore, who is already looking towards the future. 

The former Democratic primary candidate for Ohio’s 15th Congressional District already has his eyes set on 2022. He has made clear his dislike of Ohio Republicans, taking aim at potential opponents for the next election cycle.  

“I’m planning for 2022 I will run again. Stivers must go! Portman must go! Many others must go as well! We made so much headway this cycle but the work is not complete until we have justice and equality for all,” Kilgore tweeted just four days after Election Day

Kilgore, who worked as a “Voter Activation Regional Director” for the Biden Campaign, said he has considered his options. He contemplated running for Rep. Steve Stivers’ seat again. He also talked to friends and family about going up against Ohio Sen. Rob Portman, though he doesn’t know if that would be possible with his job at a call center. 

With his soft voice and tone while speaking on the phone, Kilgore discussed how he thinks he would counterbalance people like Portman and Stivers. He defines himself as “a young gay guy who knows what it’s like to be homeless, to be struggling and to be barely getting by”. 

Kilgore would be going up against someone who has been in office for years. Steve Stivers has served in public office since 2003 and has held his 15th District seat since 2011. Portman has been involved in politics since the late 1980s, before Kilgore was born.

“I know my odds would be extremely slim no matter what, depending on how things fare,” Kilgore said. “But there has to be somebody that can challenge Portman and take Portman out of office. Because for years, he’s said he’s gonna vote in the best interest of Ohioans. And every time, he sides with the president after telling us the president is wrong.” 

Even with Republican success throughout Ohio in the 2020 election — and the past several election cycles —  Kilgore has continued to take aim at politicians who he feels have failed the people, particularly those in the 15th District. 

“The 15th Congressional District has the highest poverty rates in the state. Stivers still brags about jobs that are coming,” Kilgore said. “If jobs are coming, if the jobs are there, why is the poverty rate still so high? Why is a professional football player having to donate millions of dollars to a food bank to feed people in that district?” 


Ohio took a sharp right turn in 2016. President Donald Trump defeated Hillary Clinton by 8% — even with polls showing Ohio to be a tossup this year, it was a similar story, with Trump defeating Biden by a nearly identical margin. 

Though the Republicans have held a 12-4 majority in Ohio’s U.S. House delegation — a majority that has not changed since 2012 — there was hope. Congressional races appeared to be close. 

On Election Night, that hope quickly faded away for Democrats.  

“As things went on, I thought he (Newby) had a good chance of defeating him (Stivers) because just like everyone else, we thought that blue wave was gonna come,” Kilgore said. “I thought Desiree Tims was gonna win. I thought Shannon Freshauer was gonna win, just based off the way things were going. Then it was just a ‘what just happened’ moment.” 

There were underlying causes that set Democrats back, including Kilgore’s primary opponent. 

Newby lost his election against Stivers 63% to 37%.

“I think the big takeaway from this election was turnout, turnout, turnout,” Newby said in a phone interview. “And the old adage that turnout helps Democrats is not always correct.” 

Going into the election, Newby estimated that he would need at least 180,000 votes to have any chance at victory. Even though he fell short of that, he thought for sure that he’d hit 40%. 

But Newby made the claim that Republicans blew Democrats out of the water in registering new voters, and that threw off his estimates.  

Statewide, registered Republicans outnumber registered Democrats 1.9 million to 1.6 million as of this October, according to the Associated Press.  

“I disagree with Donald Trump on probably every single level, and I have some choice words for him, but one thing you have to credit him and the Republicans for is they did a terrific job of registering people to vote,” Newby said.  

Newby believes that Democrats needed a more unified message. As he sees it, one candidate from the 15th District talking about access to rural internet is not going to make a difference, whereas all Democrats on board with the same message would be much stronger. 

This did not happen. 

Candidates did not talk about jobs related to green energy or access to rural internet as much as Newby would have liked to see. In his eyes, this campaign was all about going against Donald Trump. He doesn’t think that was the fault of any candidates, that it was just “the relative narrative of what this election was about.”  

Newby talked about the importance of organizing from the bottom up as well as training precinct captains who create a link between the party and voters in a legislative district. 

He acknowledged the pandemic impacted campaigning, and while he doesn’t know if the results would have been any different, it would have been “a different type of election.” Newby said far more doors would have been knocked on and there would have been closer connections on the ground.

He also said he believes U.S. Sen. Sherrod Brown, the only Democrat to win statewide the past several cycles, has done a good job of messaging and knows how to organize. His “dignity of work” message, Newby said, has helped him win three terms to the U.S. Senate, including an eight point victory in 2018, when Republicans won the governorship by four points. 

Newby has also discussed and agreed with Brown on the idea of creating a “league program” that would help Democratic activists learn how to organize on the ground better. 

However, Newby also thinks that any message the Democrats had was hijacked. He feels comments on “how we want to revise policing” were twisted. 

“Small little statements were blown out of proportion, and it became a demonization of the Democratic Party,” Newby said. 

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Both Kilgore and Newby have been blunt about Donald Trump not yet conceding. 

“He needs to be a man and suck it up,” Kilgore said. “The country obviously spoke, 76 million Americans voted him out.” 

As of Nov. 19, when The New Political spoke with Kilgore, Joe Biden had received over 79.6 million votes, according to the Associated Press. Trump had received 73.6 million.

Newby, having to concede an election himself, believes conceding and not interfering with the transition period is essential to democracy.

“One of the hardest calls I’ve had to make in my entire life was to call Rep. Stivers on Election Night and concede to him,” Newby said. “But you know what, it was also one of the best calls I’ve made because it was my small corner of democracy that I helped to carry forth.” 

But Trump refusing to concede, as well as Republicans in Ohio not entirely accepting the election results, is not the only controversy that has Ohio Democrats on edge — they have gerrymandering on their mind.  

As a result of the census and redistricting, new congressional districts will be drawn for the 2022 elections. 

“I know the map is gonna get redrawn. The question is just, how is it gonna get redrawn,” Kilgore said. 

Both Kilgore and Newby expressed uncertainty over what the map will look like. The possibility of Ohio losing a congressional seat could cause the 15th district to be larger. Whether or not the district will still include Athens is yet to be known. 

A new law set to go into effect in 2021 is meant to create a redistricting commission to avoid gerrymandering. The commission would include appointed representatives from both major political parties to ensure each has a say in drawing the new map. 

Though Newby has some hope for the law, given his knowledge of partisan politics in Ohio, he said he doesn’t have too much. He said though there is now the caveat that Democrats have to approve the map, Republicans still control the process. 

“The right has moved so far right, and they are so outside the norm, that it makes gerrymandering a partisan priority. And that’s how we ended up with these crazy maps to begin with,” Newby said. 

And it’s not just gerrymandering. The Republicans, who have a trifecta control over the state government, want to do everything their way, according to Newby.

“The majority of them have moved so far to the partisan right that I think it would be very difficult    to even create a law that would even guarantee a fair map at this point,” Newby said. “There’s plenty of stories down at the statehouse about how Democrats want to pass a bill, but they can’t even get a Republican to sign on to it. Not because it’s an absurd left bill, but it’s because Republicans want it done their way, inside their own caucus.” 

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Ohio Democrats have made no progress in U.S. House elections this past decade. A Democrat has not won the governorship in Ohio since Ted Strickland won in 2006. Even after the FirstEnergy bailout scandal, Larry Householder, who was arrested on federal racketeering charges, won reelection and Democrats still make up small minorities in the state senate and house. 

With uncertainty regarding the next congressional map, Democrats are asking what to do next.

None of that matters to Kilgore, who confidently believes that his message is working. 

“I knew my message was working because, granted I didn’t win Franklin, Fairfield and Athens Counties, but all the other counties I had lost by like 10 votes,” Kilgore said. “And there were two counties that I did win.” 

Kilgore won Perry and Fayette Counties. Several counties were decided by less than 100 votes, according to the New York Times election tracker.

Kilgore said he believes even though Republicans keep getting elected, they haven’t done a good job of representing the people. He claims he’s heard from people who’ve called and written to Republican politicians like Stivers and Portman, and tell them their heartfelt concerns that keep them up at night, only to not get a response back. 

“How can you say that you represent the people, if you’re not even listening to what the people have to say?” Kilgore added. 

For Newby, there are several factors that could impact whether he runs again, including what the new map looks like, or if there simply is a better, more qualified candidate than himself. 

But to Newby, as he puts it, these are his people. He plans on always working to help the people of Athens, Hocking and Vinton Counties. 

“I will be doing something every election cycle until I’m told I’m no longer allowed to participate,” Newby said. 

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