- The Washington Times - Sunday, July 24, 2016

OAKWOOD VILLAGE, OHIO — The Republicans “definitely made a smart decision” to come to his home state to hold their convention, Nick Mitulinski figures, taking a break from fixing a balky hotel air conditioning compressor in this Cleveland suburb.

“There’s a lot of people in this state who feel just like me,” the burly young HVAC technician from Youngstown says, “and we are definitely leaning Trump.”

He works two jobs, serving as a deliveryman for a pharmaceutical company at night. His wife also works full-time, but the couple lost their home last year because they couldn’t make the insurance payments. He expresses resentment at a program in his hometown where the government provides high-end furnaces to poorer residents, furnaces that “are worth more than the home they’re going in.”

With disgust, he rolls in his hand the part that he says sparked his service call — a leaky piece of thin Chinese-made copper tubing, made from melted-down scrap American parts and then exported back to the U.S.

“We’re tired of stuff being given away. We want the money to stay with us here in this country.”

The Republican carnival has pulled up stakes, with Donald Trump and Mike Pence officially the party’s standard-bearers after an unconventional, event-filled convention. But the verdict on whether Cleveland was a success for the party may ultimately rest on whether the mid-July spectacle helps generate a few hundred thousand critical extra votes in this most vital of swing states.

Political calculations were clearly at the forefront two years ago when the Republican National Committee selected Cleveland over finalist Dallas. Echoing Mr. Mitulinski, RNC Chairman Reince Priebus at the time praised the decision as “smart.”

It will look like genius if Mr. Trump can better Mitt Romney’s 47.6 percent total in 2012, 3 percentage points behind President Obama, and a loss that virtually sealed his fate in the Electoral College. And with Mr. Trump’s proven pull with blue-collar white workers like Mr. Mitulinski, a new Suffolk County poll released on the last day of the convention found Mr. Trump and Democratic rival Hillary Clinton in a dead heat with 44 percent apiece.

Despite a series of glowing testimonials from Mr. Trump’s wife and children throughout the convention, both candidates suffer from high negatives with Ohio voters, according to David Paleologos, director of the Suffolk University Political Research Center in Boston.

“The Ohio-based Republican convention might have been expected to give Trump a bump among that state’s voters, yet their dislike of both major-party candidates is translating into unease about the upcoming election,” he said.

Cleveland officials said the largely incident-free convention provided a national showcase for the city’s revival, but it also put on vivid display the dysfunction with the state Republican Party. GOP Gov. John Kasich was conspicuous by his absence at the convention hall, and still refuses to endorse his primary rival.

Paul Manafort, Mr. Trump’s campaign manager, slammed Mr. Kasich’s refusal to come on board, saying last week “he’s embarrassing the state.”

The Ohio delegation, filled with Kasich supporters and assigned to seats off to the right as Mr. Trump delivered his fiery acceptance speech Thursday night, was notably less enthusiastic for the nominee’s biggest applause lines compared to other states seated around it. There are fears that Mr. Kasich’s formidable political operation in the state will be focused on other races and won’t be as helpful to Mr. Trump’s hopes, and no Republican has ever won the White House while losing Ohio.

But Mr. Trump’s Republican supporters here insist the GOP civil war in their state can be overcome.

“Ohio is not only in play, but it’s already leaning Trump,” said Kenneth Blackwell, the former mayor of Cleveland and Ohio secretary of state who in 2006 became the first black man to run for governor of the state. “I’d say it’s disappointing that the governor isn’t on board, but it isn’t a game-changer.”

Mr. Blackwell acknowledges that Ohio is “indispensable” to Mr. Trump’s hopes, and points to energized voters like Mr. Mitulinski — coal miners in the southeastern part of the state, unionized longshoremen receptive to Mr. Trump’s anti-trade rhetoric and small business owners and employees — as a way to improve on Mr. Romney’s 2012 performance.

“I predict Trump will do just as well with blacks and Latinos, and he’s going to pick up a lot of white voters that Romney missed,” Mr. Blackwell said.

Republican Rep. James B. Renacci, whose district sits between Akron and Cleveland, has no qualms about supporting the GOP nominee and even scored a seat in the candidate’s family/VIP section on the convention’s final night. He told the local Fox News affiliate last week that Mr. Kasich was like a receiver who felt he wasn’t getting enough footballs thrown his way, “but hopefully he’ll be throwing some blocks for us in November.”

Asked if there’s time to unite, Mr. Renacci said, “We’ve just broken training camp.”

Both Mr. Renacci and Mr. Blackwell noted that the state GOP will be revved up this fall for the tight re-election race of GOP Sen. Rob Portman, getting out the vote and engaging base voters in a way that will help Mr. Trump as well.

“The Kasich organization will be fully engaged in this campaign,” Mr. Blackwell said in a telephone interview. “Rob Portman’s race is too important to Ohio and to the Senate for [Mr. Kasich] just to sit this one out.”

Both parties make an argument that selecting a particular host city sends a message about their priorities for the fall, but the record on whether it works is spotty. The Democrats renominated President Obama for a second term in Charlotte in 2012 but lost North Carolina narrowly in the fall; holding the GOP convention that year in Tampa didn’t deliver the state to Mr. Romney.

The last five Republican conventions have been hosted by cities in states that would be won by the Democrats. Democrats have a slightly better record. Before Charlotte, the host state had gone blue four elections in a row: Bill Clinton (Chicago) in 1996, Al Gore (Los Angeles) in 2000, John Kerry (Boston) in 2004 and Mr. Obama (Denver) in his first run for the White House in 2008.

And Democrats this year will be meeting in Philadelphia, the largest city in a state that both the Clinton and Trump camps say may be the pivot on which the 2016 campaign turns.

Although Cleveland and Ohio officials were basking in the heavily positive reviews for the organization and security at the convention, local Democrats said having the GOP show come to town wasn’t going to soften their feelings toward Mr. Trump.

“No, not really,” Joy Rimmer, a hotel worker in Oakwood Village, said. “It was a wonderful thing to show off the city, and we were already feeling good about the Cavaliers, but I’m a Democrat.”

And Democrats like Spencer Dirrig, a 19-year-old sophomore at Ohio State and a pledged delegate for Hillary Clinton this week in Philadelphia, said the portrait the Republicans provided in Cleveland amounted to an unflattering close-up.

Cleveland was hit incredibly hard by the housing crisis — a crisis Donald Trump ‘cheered for,’” Mr. Dirrig said. “Having the convention in Cleveland has only drawn Ohioans’ attention to the insanely hard-right turn the Party of Trump has taken in 2016.”

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