By Jeff Greenfield
For Tim Hagan, who’s been on top of Democratic Party politics in Cuyahoga County for more than four decades, Donald Trump’s strength among white working-class voters is no abstraction, nor a new phenomenon. He watched them flock to Richard Nixon’s re-election in 1972 over issues like patriotism, busing and welfare. He saw them help give Ronald Reagan a 10-point win in Ohio in 1980 and a 19-point landslide in 1984. He saw Democratic majorities in Cuyahoga County trumped by just enough votes among white, working-class voters in 2004 to give President George W. Bush the state—and therefore the White House. Barack Obama’s stronger showings—68 percent in 2008 and 69 percent in 1012, the best showing since LBJ in 1964—helped give him the margins to carry Ohio twice.
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Hagan says he’s still “cautiously optimistic” that Hillary Clinton too can win Ohio. But if she does, it will happen because she can repeat the Obama coalition of minorities, young and the better-educated—not because she can win back these disaffected working-class voters.
“Maybe Joe Biden could, with his Scranton working-class background,” he says, “but I don’t think she can. I know she gets it up here,” he says pointing to his head, “but maybe not here,” he adds, tapping his heart. Maybe it’s because she’s been around so much wealth for so long. …”
Right now, the battle for Ohio appears very close; polls show everything from a tie to a 4-point Clinton lead; the RealClearPolitics average puts her ahead by a scant 1.8 points. But Hagan believes that many of his old pals from the neighborhood already have gone over to Trump. And remember: While it’s become a cliché to note that “no Republican has ever won the White House without winning Ohio," only two Democrats have managed the feat: FDR in 1944 and JFK in 1960. It's a state Hillary Clinton needs.