At a last-minute campaign stop in Ohio last year, then-candidate Joseph R. Biden said he had made the somewhat unexpected election eve trip at the urging of Democratic Sen. Sherrod Brown.
“When Sherrod tells me to come to Ohio the day before, I come to Ohio,” Mr. Biden said. “That’s what I do.”
A day later, then-President Donald Trump notched a decisive 8-point win over Mr. Biden in the Buckeye State — the same margin of victory there for Mr. Trump in 2016 after former President Barack Obama had won the longtime swing state in 2008 and 2012.
As President Biden heads back to Cleveland on Thursday to talk about the economy, he and his party are grappling with demographic and cultural shifts in the Midwest that are making it increasingly difficult for Democrats to compete in states such as Ohio and Iowa, which were battlegrounds just a few cycles ago.
Bob Paduchik, chairman of the Ohio Republican Party, said unless Mr. Biden’s team was looking at some bad polling, they wouldn’t have seen anything in the data to make them think such a stop was worth his precious end-of-campaign time and energy.
“If Republican candidates continue to focus on delivering for blue-collar voters and working-class conservative values, we will continue to win elections by holding Republicans and attracting independents and disaffected Democrats,” Mr. Paduchik told The Washington Times.
He said Mr. Trump’s “America First” message transformed the GOP into a working-class conservative party and that it coincided with the Democrats’ abandonment of working families and push of a left-wing agenda.
Last year was only the third time since 1900 that Ohio voters failed to pick the winning presidential candidate.
Dean Rieck, executive director of the Buckeye Firearms Association, a gun rights group, said Ohio isn’t a lost cause for presidential-level Democrats yet, but it’s certainly trending that way.
Mr. Rieck said he’s already seen at least one “Trump 2024” tent set up in the Zanesville area.
“This state can easily go blue, but I think what’s been happening is that a lot of just ordinary people are seeing the left push too far,” he said. “A lot of ordinary folks will go along with things changing — even, dare I say, being a little progressive. But if you [push] too far, too fast, people push back — especially when they see that what you’re proposing is just kind of wacko.”
Mr. Biden already has visited Ohio since taking office in January. He traveled to Columbus in March to talk up his $1.9 trillion coronavirus relief package and tout Obamacare on the 11th anniversary of the signing of the health care law.
Democrats also had high hopes of ousting Sen. Joni Ernst, Iowa Republican, last year. Some were even bullish on Mr. Biden’s prospects of carrying the Hawkeye State despite an admittedly uphill climb after Mr. Trump won Iowa by close to 10 points in 2016, flipping another state Mr. Obama carried twice.
But Ms. Ernst and Mr. Trump cruised to relatively comfortable wins there.
Mr. Paduchik credited the former president’s commitment to rewrite the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) — a hugely important issue for rural farmers — as a key to his success in the Midwest.
“President Trump kept campaign promises,” he said. “His commitment to fix NAFTA and fight back against China began a transformation that holds the key to future Republican party success.”
Mr. Biden did manage to win back Michigan, Wisconsin and Pennsylvania — three Rust Belt states that were critical to Mr. Trump’s 2016 win. But the president won Wisconsin and Pennsylvania by razor-thin margins, and Democrats can’t count on the supposed “blue wall” states permanently returning to their column.
There has been a major demographic tradeoff in recent elections, with Democrats doing better among White voters with four-year college degrees and Republicans inching up among White voters without four-year degrees, said Kyle Kondik, managing editor of Sabato’s Crystal Ball, a political forecasting newsletter.
“Democrats also continue to win non-White voters in aggregate, although their edge slipped a little in the last few cycles,” said Mr. Kondik, author of “The Bellwether: Why Ohio Picks the President.”
He said the broader tradeoff has had major implications on the electoral map, with Democrats making gains in states with growing, diverse urban areas such as Arizona, Colorado, Georgia and Virginia and Republicans making gains in states with large sections of White, working-class, rural and small city areas like much of the Midwest.
“This tradeoff has pushed states like Iowa and Ohio firmly into the Republican column, and without a major shift in the demographic bases of the two parties, one would not expect either Iowa or Ohio to be important presidential battlegrounds in 2024,” Mr. Kondik said.
Mr. Biden clearly assembled enough Electoral College votes to win, boosted by breakthroughs in newly Democratic territories such as Arizona and Georgia.
But Florida, long considered the most valuable presidential battleground, also inched further away from Mr. Biden and the Democrats in 2020, compared to 2016. Gov. Ron DeSantis, a Republican, was elected in 2018 despite several well-regarded polls late in the race that showed Democrat Andrew Gillum with a clear lead. And the state’s two U.S. senators, Marco Rubio and Rick Scott, are Republicans.
Mr. Kondik said Florida is more diverse than states like Iowa and Ohio, but Democrats have struggled to get the kind of margins in the Sunshine State among non-White voters, particularly Hispanics, that they have elsewhere.
“Republicans have benefited from a Democratic erosion among the White working class in parts of Florida, too, and the state lacks a comparable region to Northern Virginia, metro Atlanta, Denver or Phoenix,” he said. “The party coalitions can change in Florida over time, but there has been a familiar result — Republicans coming out ahead.”