Ohio voters take chaotic start to 2016 race in stride

Published 8:28 am Monday, September 7, 2015

COLUMBUS, Ohio — It’s been a tumultuous political summer.

The unexpected rises of billionaire Donald Trump and socialist Bernie Sanders. Signs of weakness for Democratic front-runner Hillary Rodham Clinton. Curiosity about the future of Vice President Joe Biden.

Yet in Ohio, the nation’s most reliable general election bellwether, voters are taking a more measured view of a race they ultimately may decide.

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“It’s all just chatter,” said Judith Anderson, 40, a Democrat from Cincinnati. “We’re a ways out.”

Anderson is one of the more than 50 voters interviewed by The Associated Press the week before Labor Day in Ohio, which along with Florida will be one of the most coveted states in the 2016 election.

They report that the Republican primary is wide open, even as Trump holds steady atop early polls. There’s little interest in establishment candidates such as former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush, and a surprising lack of energy for Ohio’s own governor, John Kasich.

But they also say there’s room for someone other than Trump to tap into voters’ frustration with a political system they believe has abandoned them.

When it comes to Trump, Ohio Republicans have a palpable excitement about his brash brand of politics, and a deep uncertainty about his qualifications to serve as president.

Earl Taggart, 44, a Cincinnati-area electrician, said Trump’s bluntness is forcing other candidates to address issues they would rather avoid, including illegal immigration. But could Taggart see Trump becoming president?

“I don’t think he’s got a shot in hell,” he said. “He’s not the mouthpiece we want for America.”

The interviews also highlighted nagging concerns about Clinton’s honesty and trustworthiness amid the continued revelations about her use of a private email account and server while serving as secretary of state.

While some Democrats are intrigued by Sanders, the self-declared “democratic socialist” from Vermont, many see the senator more as a novelty than a credible alternative.

There’s even less interest among Ohio Democrats in Biden getting into the race.

The voters represent just a slice of the Ohio electorate, and many say they’re just starting to pay attention to the campaign. Still, their views provide insights into the direction the White House race might take as the turbulent summer fades into fall.

As is the case elsewhere, Trump is dominating the political discussion in Ohio.

Republicans, independents, and even a few Democrats say they welcome the real estate mogul’s willingness to speak his mind and challenge opponents.

“I’m tired of everything being politically correct,” said Carol Gruber, a 56-year-old Republican from Cincinnati. “He’s a little crass, but I like that he tells it like it is.”

But many of those who say Trump is playing an important role in the race are nonetheless reluctant to elect him president.

“It makes me nervous,” said Beverly Kaiser, an independent voter from Columbus.